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Microsaccades restore the visibility of minute foveal targets

Author(s): Francisco M. Costela | Michael B. McCamy | Stephen L. Macknik | Jorge Otero-Millan | Susana Martinez-Conde

Journal: PeerJ
ISSN 2167-8359

Volume: 1;
Start page: e119;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: Fading | Troxler fading | Fixation | Fovea | Illusion

Stationary targets can fade perceptually during steady visual fixation, a phenomenon known as Troxler fading. Recent research found that microsaccades—small, involuntary saccades produced during attempted fixation—can restore the visibility of faded targets, both in the visual periphery and in the fovea. Because the targets tested previously extended beyond the foveal area, however, the ability of microsaccades to restore the visibility of foveally-contained targets remains unclear. Here, subjects reported the visibility of low-to-moderate contrast targets contained entirely within the fovea during attempted fixation. The targets did not change physically, but their visibility varied intermittently during fixation, in an illusory fashion (i.e., foveal Troxler fading). Microsaccade rates increased significantly before the targets became visible, and decreased significantly before the targets faded, for a variety of target contrasts. These results support previous research linking microsaccade onsets to the visual restoration of peripheral and foveal targets, and extend the former conclusions to minute targets contained entirely within the fovea. Our findings suggest that the involuntary eye movements produced during attempted fixation do not always prevent fading—in either the fovea or the periphery—and that microsaccades can restore perception, when fading does occur. Therefore, microsaccades are relevant to human perception of foveal stimuli.
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