Humans rely on the foveola, the region of the retina where cones are most densely packed, for exploring the visual scene at high resolution. Although the foveola only covers a tiny portion of the visual ?eld? approximately the size of a full moon?, damage to this area has devastating consequences for most daily visual activities. Yet, primarily as a consequence of technical challenges, little is known about the mechanisms of foveal vision and the sensorimotor strategies by which humans achieve high visual acuity. A major dif?culty in studying foveal functions comes from the need to ?nely control retinal stimulation. At this scale, both placing and maintaining a stimulus at a desired eccentricity is dif?cult, because of uncertainty in localizing the center of gaze (typically as large as the foveola itself), and because of the continual retinal motion caused by ?xational eye movements, the slow eye drifts and small saccades that humans continually perform. The PI and her coworkers have recently circumvented these limitations and developed new methods for mapping visual functions at the very center of gaze. Their research has shown that pattern vision varies sharply across the foveola, and that both attention and eye movements are precisely controlled at this scale. These previous ?ndings raise a fundamental hypothesis: high acuity vision does not follow automatically from placing the stimulus on the foveola, but it is the outcome of an orchestrated synergy of visual, motor, and attentional components, which closely cooperate to sequentially extract ?ne spatial information from the foveal region. This project is designed to investigate this hypothesis, in three strongly inter-connected aims, we will examine the role of attention in high acuity vision (Aim 1), how it is modulated by microsaccades (Aim 3), and how both attention and microsaccades deal with limits in visual processing of ?ne patterns (Aim 2). Speci?cally, in Aim 1, we will build upon our previous work on the ?ne control of voluntary attention within the foveola and study the spatial resolution of this phenomenon, its temporal dynamics, and whether it extends to involuntary attention.
In Aim 2, we will map visual acuity across the foveal space and examine how visual acuity and crowding vary within the foveola.
In Aim 3, we will investigate the accuracy and precision of mi- crosaccades, their contributions to alleviating physiological limitations in acuity and crowding, and their links to attentional control within the foveola. The interplay of vision, attention, and oculomotor activity will be stud- ied not just in general terms (average results across observers) but also at the individual level, to determine whether the degree of attentional and motor control covary and whether the latter is linked to idiosyncratic differences in acuity. Our main hypothesis that ?ne spatial vision is the outcome of a sensorimotor interaction bears several important consequences. It raises the possibility that sub-optimal control of attention and ?xa- tional eye movements may contribute to high acuity impairments. This research may open the way for visual rehabilitation procedures that act on the ?ne control of eye movements and attention.

Public Health Relevance

Humans critically rely on a tiny region of the retina, the foveola, to inspect objects of interest. By examining how foveal processing interacts with high-resolution control of attention and microscopic eye movements, this research will advance understanding of the mechanisms underlying ?ne spatial vision in humans and may lay the basis for new treatment approaches for impairments in foveal functions.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
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Mechanisms of Sensory, Perceptual, and Cognitive Processes Study Section (SPC)
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Wiggs, Cheri
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University of Rochester
School of Medicine & Dentistry
United States
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