Contrast sensitivity revealed by microsaccades

Yoram S. Bonneh, Yael Adini, Uri Polat

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42 Scopus citations


Microsaccades are small rapid and involuntary eye movements that occur during fixation in an apparently stochastic manner. They are known to be inhibited in response to sensory transients, with a time course that depends on the stimulus parameters and attention. However, the temporal precision of their onsets and the degree to which they can be used to assess the response of the visual system to basic stimulus parameters is currently unknown. Here we studied microsaccade response properties as a function of the contrast and spatial frequency of visual onsets. Observers (n = 18) viewed and silently counted 2-min sequences of Gabor patches presented briefly (100 ms) at 1Hz. Contrast and spatial frequency were randomized in different experiments. We found that the microsaccade response time, as measured by the latency of the first microsaccade relative to stimulus onset following its release from inhibition, was sensitive to the contrast and spatial frequency of the stimulus and could be used to extract a contrast response function without the observers' response. We also found that contrast detection thresholds, measured behaviorally for different spatial frequencies, were highly and positively correlated (R = 0.87) with the microsaccade response time measured at high contrast (> 4 times the threshold). These results show that different measures of microsaccade inhibition, especially the microsaccade response time, can provide accurate and involuntary measures of low-level visual properties such as contrast response and sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2015


  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Eye movements
  • Microsaccades
  • Oculomotor mechanics


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