Sensorimotor integration compensates for visual localization errors during smooth pursuit eye movements

R.J. van Beers, D.M. Wolpert, P. Haggard

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    To localize a seen object, the CNS has to integrate the object's retinal location with the direction of gaze. Here we investigate this process by examining the localization of static objects during smooth pursuit eye movements. The normally experienced stability of the visual world during smooth pursuit suggests that the CNS essentially compensates for the eye movement when judging target locations. However, certain systematic localization errors are made, and we use these to study the process of sensorimotor integration. During an eye movement, a static object's image moves across the retina. Objects that produce retinal slip are known to be mislocalized: objects moving toward the fovea are seen too far on in their trajectory, whereas errors are much smaller for objects moving away from the fovea. These effects are usually studied by localizing the moving object relative to a briefly flashed one during fixation: moving objects are then mislocalized, but flashes are not. In our first experiment, we found that a similar differential mislocalization occurs for static objects relative to flashes during pursuit. This effect is not specific for horizontal pursuit but was also found in other directions. In a second experiment, we examined how this effect generalizes to positions outside the line of eye movement. We found that large localization errors were found in the entire hemifield ahead of the pursuit target and were predominantly aligned with the direction of eye movement. In a third experiment, we determined whether it is the flash or the static object that is mislocalized ahead of the pursuit target. In contrast to fixation conditions, we found that during pursuit it is the flash, not the static object, which is mislocalized. In a fourth experiment, we used egocentric localization to confirm this result. Our results suggest that the CNS compensates for the retinal localization errors to maintain position constancy for static objects during pursuit. This compensation is achieved in the process of sensorimotor integration of retinal and gaze signals: different retinal areas are integrated with different gaze signals to guarantee the stability of the visual world.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1914-1922
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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