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Fixational eye movements predict visual sensitivity


Assistant Professor in Psychology

Professor of Visual Neuroscience


Professor of Vision Science


© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. During steady fixation, observers make small fixational saccades at a rate of around 1–2 per second. Presentation of a visual stimulus triggers a biphasic modulation in fixational saccade rate—an initial inhibition followed by a period of elevated rate and a subsequent return to baseline. Here we show that, during passive viewing, this rate signature is highly sensitive to small changes in stimulus contrast. By training a linear support vector machine to classify trials in which a stimulus is either present or absent, we directly compared the contrast sensitivity of fixational eye movements with individuals’ psychophysical judgements. Classification accuracy closely matched psychophysical performance, and predicted individuals’ threshold estimates with less bias and overall error than those obtained using specific features of the signature. Performance of the classifier was robust to changes in the training set (novel subjects and/or contrasts) and good prediction accuracy was obtained with a practicable number of trials. Our results indicate a tight coupling between the sensitivity of visual perceptual judgements and fixational eye control mechanisms. This raises the possibility that fixational saccades could provide a novel and objective means of estimating visual contrast sensitivity without the need for observers to make any explicit judgement.


Scholes, C., McGraw, P. V., Nyström, M., & Roach, N. W. (2015). Fixational eye movements predict visual sensitivity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1817), Article 20151568.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 21, 2015
Online Publication Date Oct 22, 2015
Publication Date Oct 22, 2015
Deposit Date Sep 13, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jan 29, 2019
Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Print ISSN 0962-8452
Electronic ISSN 1471-2954
Publisher Royal Society, The
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 282
Issue 1817
Article Number 20151568
Public URL
PMID 00036348


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