The effect of different brightness conditions on visually and memory guided saccades

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It is commonly assumed that saccades in the dark are slower than saccades in a lit room. Early studies that investigated this issue using electrooculography (EOG) often compared memory guided saccades in darkness to visually guided saccades in an illuminated room. However, later studies showed that memory guided saccades are generally slower than visually guided saccades. Research on this topic is further complicated by the fact that the different existing eyetracking methods do not necessarily lead to consistent measurements. In the present study, we independently manipulated task (memory guided/visually guided) and screen brightness (dark, medium and light) in an otherwise completely dark room, and measured the peak velocity and the duration of the participant’s saccades using a popular pupil-cornea reflection (p-cr) eyetracker (Eyelink 1000). Based on a critical reading of the literature, including a recent study using cornea-reflection (cr) eye tracking, we did not expect any velocity or duration differences between the three brightness conditions. We found that memory guided saccades were generally slower than visually guided saccades. In both tasks, eye movements on a medium and light background were equally fast and had similar durations. However, saccades on the dark background were slower and had shorter durations, even after we corrected for the effect of pupil size changes. This means that this is most likely an artifact of current pupil-based eye tracking. We conclude that the common assumption that saccades in the dark are slower than in the light is probably not true, however pupil-based eyetrackers tend to underestimate the peak velocity of saccades on very dark backgrounds, creating the impression that this might be the case.

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