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Retinal image shifts, but not eye movements per se, cause alternations in awareness during binocular rivalry


van Dam,  LCJ
Research Group Multisensory Perception and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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van Dam, L. (2006). Retinal image shifts, but not eye movements per se, cause alternations in awareness during binocular rivalry. Journal of Vision, 6(11), 1172-1179. doi:doi:10.1167/6.11.3.

Particularly promising studies on visual awareness exploit a generally used perceptual bistability phenomenon, “binocular rivalry”—in which the two eyes‘ images alternately dominate—because it can dissociate the visual input from the perceptual output. To successfully study awareness, it is crucial to know the extent to which eye movements alter the input. Although there is convincing evidence that perceptual alternations can occur without eye movements, the literature on their exact role is mixed. Moreover, recent work has demonstrated that eye movements, first, correlate positively with perceptual alternations in binocular rivalry, and second, often accompany covert attention shifts (that were previously thought to be purely mental). Here, we asked whether eye movements cause perceptual alternations, and if so, whether it is either the execution of the eye movement or the resulting retinal image change that causes the alternation. Subjects viewed repetitive line patterns, enabling a distinction of saccades that did produce foveal image changes from those that did not. Subjects reported binocular rivalry alternations. We found that, although a saccade is not essential to initiate percept changes, the foveal image change resulting from a (micro)saccade is a deciding factor for percept dominance. We conclude that the foveal image must change to have a saccade cause a change in awareness. This sheds new light on the interaction between spatial attention shifts and perceptual alternations.