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Which retinal and extra-retinal information is crucial for circular vection?

T. Mergner, A. Wertheim, A. Rumberger


In contradistinction to conventional wisdom, we propose that retinal image slip of a visual scene (optokinetic pattern, OP) does not constitute the only crucial input for visually induced percepts of self-motion (vection). Instead, the hypothesis is investigated that there are three input factors: 1) OP retinal image slip, 2) motion of the ocular orbital shadows across the retinae, and 3) smooth pursuit eye movements (efference copy). To test this hypothesis, we visually induced percepts of sinusoidal rotatory self-motion (circular vection, CV) in the absence of vestibular stimulation. Subjects were presented with three concurrent stimuli: a large visual OP, a fixation point to be pursued with the eyes (both projected in superposition on a semi-circular screen), and a dark window frame placed close to the eyes to create artificial visual field boundaries that simulate ocular orbital rim boundary shadows, but which could be moved across the retinae independent from eye movements. In different combinations these stimuli were independently moved or kept stationary. When moved together (horizontally and sinusoidally around the subject's head), they did so in precise temporal synchrony at 0.05 Hz. The results show that the occurrence of CV requires retinal slip of the OP and/or relative motion between the orbital boundary shadows and the OP. On the other hand, CV does not develop when the two retinal slip signals equal each other (no relative motion) and concur with pursuit eye movements (as it is the case, e.g., when we follow with the eyes the motion of a target on a stationary visual scene). The findings were formalized in terms of a simulation model. In the model two signals coding relative motion between OP and head are fused and fed into the mechanism for CV, a visuo-oculomotor one, derived from OP retinal slip and eye movement efference copy, and a purely visual signal of relative motion between the orbital rims (head) and the OP. The latter signal is also used, together with a version of the oculomotor efference copy, for a mechanism that suppresses CV at a later stage of processing in conditions in which the retinal slip signals are self-generated by smooth pursuit eye movements.

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