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      Alertness and Visual Attention Impact Different Aspects of the Optokinetic Reflex


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          Assessing visual attention and alertness is of great importance in visual and cognitive neuroscience, providing objective measures valuable for both researchers and clinicians. This study investigates how the optokinetic response differs between levels of visual attention in healthy adults while controlling for alertness.


          Twelve healthy subjects (8 men and 4 women; mean age = 33 ± 9.36) with intact gaze-stability, visual acuity, and binocularity were recruited. Subjects viewed a rotating visual scene provoking torsional optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) while wearing a video eye tracker in a seated head-fixed position. Tasks requiring focused, neutral, and divided visual attention were issued to each subject and the OKN was recorded. Pupil sizes were monitored as a proxy for alertness.


          Pupil dilation was increased for both focused and divided visual attention. The number of nystagmus beats was highest for the focused condition and lowest for the divided attentional task. OKN gain was increased during both focused and divided attention. The distribution of nystagmus beats over time showed that only focused attention produced a reliable adaptation of the OKN.


          Results consequently indicate that OKN frequency is adaptive to a viewer's level of visual attention, whereas OKN gain is influenced by alertness levels. This pattern offers insight into the neural processes integrating visual input with reflexive motor responses. For example, it contextualizes why attention to visual stimuli can cause dizziness, as the OKN frequency reflects activity of the velocity storage mechanism. Additionally, the OKN could offer a possible venue for differentiating between visual attention and alertness during psychometric testing.

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          Most cited references42

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          The attention system of the human brain.

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              Microsaccades uncover the orientation of covert attention.

              Fixational eye movements are subdivided into tremor, drift, and microsaccades. All three types of miniature eye movements generate small random displacements of the retinal image when viewing a stationary scene. Here we investigate the modulation of microsaccades by shifts of covert attention in a classical spatial cueing paradigm. First, we replicate the suppression of microsaccades with a minimum rate about 150 ms after cue onset. Second, as a new finding we observe microsaccadic enhancement with a maximum rate about 350 ms after presentation of the cue. Third, we find a modulation of the orientation towards the cue direction. These multiple influences of visual attention on microsaccades accentuate their role for visual information processing. Furthermore, our results suggest that microsaccades can be used to map the orientation of visual attention in psychophysical experiments.

                Author and article information

                Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci
                Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci
                Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science
                The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
                20 October 2021
                October 2021
                : 62
                : 13
                : 16
                [1 ]Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Division of Eye and Vision, Marianne Bernadotte Centrum, St. Erik's Eye Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Tobias Wibble, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Division of Eye and Vision, Marianne Bernadotte Centrum, St. Erik's Eye Hospital, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; tobias.wibble@ 123456ki.se .
                Copyright 2021 The Authors

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

                : 29 September 2021
                : 18 August 2021
                Page count
                Pages: 7
                Visual Neuroscience
                Visual Neuroscience

                visual attention,alertness,ocular torsion,optokinetic nystagmus


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