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Control Mechanisms in the Human Binocular Oculomotor System


St-Cyr, Gaetan Joseph (1969) Control Mechanisms in the Human Binocular Oculomotor System. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/HWV2-8062.


A study of human eye movements was made in order to elucidate the nature of the control mechanism in the binocular oculomotor system.

We first examined spontaneous eye movements during monocular and binocular fixation in order to determine the corrective roles of flicks and drifts. It was found that both types of motion correct fixational errors, although flicks are somewhat more active in this respect. Vergence error is a stimulus for correction by drifts but not by flicks, while binocular vertical discrepancy of the visual axes does not trigger corrective movements.

Second, we investigated the non-linearities of the oculomotor system by examining the eye movement responses to point targets moving in two dimensions in a subjectively unpredictable manner. Such motions consisted of hand-limited Gaussian random motion and also of the sum of several non-integrally related sinusoids. We found that there is no direct relationship between the phase and the gain of the oculomotor system. Delay of eye movements relative to target motion is determined by the necessity of generating a minimum afferent (input) signal at the retina in order to trigger corrective eye movements. The amplitude of the response is a function of the biological constraints of the efferent (output) portion of the system: for target motions of narrow bandwidth, the system responds preferentially to the highest frequency; for large bandwidth motions, the system distributes the available energy equally over all frequencies. Third, the power spectra of spontaneous eye movements were compared with the spectra of tracking eye movements for Gaussian random target motions of varying bandwidths. It was found that there is essentially no difference among the various curves. The oculomotor system tracks a target, not by increasing the mean rate of impulses along the motoneurons of the extra-ocular muscles, but rather by coordinating those spontaneous impulses which propagate along the motoneurons during stationary fixation. Thus, the system operates at full output at all times.

Fourth, we examined the relative magnitude and phase of motions of the left and the right visual axes during monocular and binocular viewing. We found that the two visual axes move vertically in perfect synchronization at all frequencies for any viewing condition. This is not true for horizontal motions: the amount of vergence noise is highest for stationary fixation and diminishes for tracking tasks as the bandwidth of the target motion increases. Furthermore, movements of the occluded eye are larger than those of the seeing eye in monocular viewing. This effect is more pronounced for horizontal motions, for stationary fixation, and for lower frequencies.

Finally, we have related our findings to previously known facts about the pertinent nerve pathways in order to postulate a model for the neurological binocular control of the visual axes.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:(Electrical Engineering and Neurobiology)
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Electrical Engineering
Minor Option:Neurobiology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Fender, Derek H.
Thesis Committee:
  • Unknown, Unknown
Defense Date:6 December 1968
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02262016-115946369
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9591
Deposited On:26 Feb 2016 22:57
Last Modified:02 Aug 2021 22:23

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