Plasticity in the attentional and eye movement systems and their influence on vision

We also interested in investigating how eye movements and attention relate to visual perception in terms of visual plasticity. Low-vision is a major problem in Canada and one of the main causes is macular degeneration. Macular degeneration affects visual acuity in the fovea and surrounding visual field (central scotoma), which affects their visual perception greatly.

Both the eye movement system and the attentional system have been shown to be highly plastic but very little is known about whether modifying eye movements and attention can lead to changes visual perception. For example, can adaptation lead to changes in the automatic allocation of attention to a non-foveal location, which is used by people with macular degeneration to perceive? Investigating this topic has an immense potential for rehabilitative strategies and might allow people with low vision to regain some functionality. We intend to measure the extent of plasticity for the eye movement and attentional systems by training healthy participants using artificial scotomas on combined saccade and attentional discrimination tasks using state-of-the art gaze-contingent displays in which parts of the visual image change depending on where the eyes are looking. Next, we will investigate whether such oculomotor/attentional tasks can be used to efficiently train patients with central scotomas to enhance the functional use of their intact peripheral vision.