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Eye Movements and Perception  

Doris I. Braun and Alexander C. Schütz

Voluntary eye movements and visual perception are closely intertwined in humans and nonhuman primates because of the limitation of high-acuity vision to a very small, specialized area at the center of the retina, the fovea. Only when the image of an object is projected on the foveal region by eye and head movements it is possible, to perceive fine visual details such as letters during reading. In order to improve visual perception and to benefit from high-resolution foveal vision, rapid saccadic eye movements frequently change the direction of both eyes to selected peripheral locations. Continuous sequences of these voluntary saccades and fixations determine what humans see and in how much detail they perceive objects and their visual surroundings. Where, when, and how humans move their eyes depends not only on the visual properties of the target object but also on their intentions and prevailing tasks. Accordingly, target locations for saccades differ depending on the things people do—whether they just look around, actively search for something, read, or do sports. Instead of the classical dichotomy of bottom-up and top-down processes, recent research on gaze behavior has focused on the dynamic interplay of factors such as task demands, rewards, scene content, temporal sequences, and individual and historical differences. Besides saccadic eye movements, humans are also able to rotate their eyes continuously when they pursue moving objects of interest. Smooth pursuit eye movements stabilize the image of a moving object on the foveal region and prevent degradation of the retinal target image resulting from motion smear. The use of pursuit eye movements also improves the prediction of future target movement. Pursuit initiation is often combined with interceptive saccades that direct the fovea to the moving target, and catch-up saccades that correct for small mismatches concerning eye and target position, speed, and/or direction. Because each eye movement alters retinal input, compensations for retinal displacements are needed to maintain a stable representation of the environment. Overall, both saccadic and smooth pursuit eye movements provide optimal uptake of visual information for perception and guidance of actions.