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Looking for symmetry: fixational eye movements are biased by image mirror symmetry

Abstract : Humans are highly sensitive to symmetry. During scene exploration, the area of the retina with dense light receptor coverage acquires most information from relevant locations determined by gaze fixation. We characterized patterns of fixational eye movements made by observers staring at synthetic scenes either freely (i.e., free exploration) or during a symmetry orientation discrimination task (i.e., active exploration). Stimuli could be mirror-symmetric or not. Both free and active exploration gener- ated more saccades parallel to the axis of symmetry than along other orientations. Most saccades were small ( 2°), leaving the fovea within a 4° radius of fixation. Analysis of saccade dynamics showed that the observed parallel orientation selectivity emerged within 500 ms of stimulus onset and persisted throughout the trials under both viewing conditions. Symmetry strongly distorted existing anisotropies in gaze direction in a seemingly automatic process. We argue that this bias serves a functional role in which adjusted scene sampling en- hances and maintains sustained sensitivity to local spatial correlations arising from symmetry
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Andrew Meso, Anna Montagnini, Jason Bell, Guillaume Masson. Looking for symmetry: fixational eye movements are biased by image mirror symmetry. Journal of Neurophysiology, American Physiological Society, 2016, 116 (3), pp.1250-1260. ⟨10.1152/jn.01152.2015⟩. ⟨hal-01480698⟩

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