Ocular Vergence Under Natural Conditions. I. Continuous Changes of Target Distance Along the Median Plane

C. J. Erkelens, J. Van Der Steen, R. M. Steinman, H. Collewijn

Abstract

Horizontal binocular eye movements of four subjects were recorded with the scleral sensor coil - revolving magnetic field technique while they fixated a natural target, whose distance was varied in a normally illuminated room. The distance of the target relative to the head of the subject was changed in three ways (a) the target was moved manually by the experimenter; (b) the target was moved manually by the subject, (c) the target remained stationary while the subject moved his upper torso towards and away from the target. The rate of change of target distance was varied systematically in four levels, ranging from `slow' to `very fast', corresponding to changes in target vergence from about 10$^\circ$ s$^{-1}$ to about 100$^\circ$ s$^{-1}$ The dynamics of ocular vergence with regard to delay and speed were, under all three conditions, considerably better than could be expected from the literature on ocular vergence induced by disparity and/or blur When `very fast' changes in the distance of the target were made, subjects achieved maximum vergence speeds of up to about 100$^\circ$ s$^{-1}$ Delays of these fast vergence responses were generally smaller than 125 ms. Negative delays, i.e. ocular vergence leading the change in target distance, were observed. The eyes led the target (i.e. predicted target motion) by about 90 ms on average, when the subject used his hand to move the target. Vergence tracking was almost perfect when changes in distance were produced by moving the upper torso. In this condition, the eye led the target by about 5 ms. In the `slow' and `medium' conditions (stimulus speeds about 10-40$^\circ$ s$^{-1}$) tracking was accurate to within 1-2$^\circ$ irrespective of the way in which the target was moved. In the `fast' and `very fast' conditions (stimulus speeds about 40-100$^\circ$ s$^{-1}$), the accuracy of vergence tracking was better for self-induced than for experimenter-induced target displacements, and accuracy was best during voluntary movements of the upper torso. In the last case, ocular vergence speed was within about 10% of the rate of change of the vergence angle formed by the eyes and the stationary target. The dynamics of convergent and divergent vergence responses varied considerably. These variations were idiosyneratic. They were consistent within, but not between, subjects. Ocular vergence associated with attempted fixation of an imagined target, changing distance in darkness, could only be made by two of the four subjects. The changes they could make were unreliable and poorly correlated with changes in the distance of the imagined target. Vergence changes did not occur when the distance to the target, imagined in darkness, was varied by keeping the target stationary and moving the torso back and forth. In conclusion, when ocular vergence was studied under relatively natural conditions in which there were many cues to the distance of the target, oculomotor vergence was both much faster and much more accurate than could have been anticipated from previous studies done under more restricted stimulating conditions.