Human vergence eye movements initiated by competing disparities: Evidence for a winner-take-all mechanism

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Abstract

Vergence eye movements were elicited in human subjects at short latencies (∼70 ms) by applying binocular disparities briefly (200 ms) to large grating patterns (46° wide, 35° high). The positions of both eyes were recorded with the electromagnetic search coil technique. Using a dichoptic viewing arrangement (Wheatstone stereoscope), each eye viewed two overlapping 1-D sine waves that had the same orientation but different spatial frequencies. These two sine waves each had a binocular disparity that was 1/4 of its wavelength and the effect of varying their relative contrasts was examined (15 contrast ratios ranging from 0.125 to 8). The first experiment used horizontal gratings and recorded the vertical vergence responses when the two sine waves had spatial frequencies in the ratio 3:5 and vertical disparities of opposite sign. Initial vergence responses showed a highly nonlinear dependence on the contrast ratio. On average, when the contrast of one sine wave exceeded that of the other by a factor of >2.2, the sine wave with the higher contrast dominated responses and the sine wave with the lower contrast had almost no influence: winner-take-all. A second experiment, which used vertical gratings and recorded the horizontal vergence responses when the two sine waves had spatial frequencies in the ratio 3:5 and horizontal disparities of opposite sign, also uncovered nonlinear interactions but these were much more variable from one subject to another and, on average, one sine wave did not achieve complete dominance until its contrast exceeded that of the other by a factor of >4.5. When these two experiments were repeated with grating patterns in which the two sine waves had spatial frequencies in the ratio 3:7 and disparities of the same sign, similar nonlinear interactions were apparent. We attribute the nonlinear dependence on relative contrast to mutual inhibition between the neural elements processing the disparities of the two sine waves. We further suggest that this interaction will help to maintain binocular alignment on the objects in the plane of regard because the retinal images of those objects will tend to be better focused—and hence tend to have higher contrasts—than the images of objects in other depth planes.

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