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Vision Res. 2011 May 25;51(10):1173-84. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2011.03.006. Epub 2011 Mar 22.

Differential impact of partial cortical blindness on gaze strategies when sitting and walking - an immersive virtual reality study.

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Flaum Eye Institute, University of Rochester, 601 Elmwood Ave., Box 314, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


The present experiments aimed to characterize the visual performance of subjects with long-standing, unilateral cortical blindness when walking in a naturalistic, virtual environment. Under static, seated testing conditions, cortically blind subjects are known to exhibit compensatory eye movement strategies. However, they still complain of significant impairment in visual detection during navigation. To assess whether this is due to a change in compensatory eye movement strategy between sitting and walking, we measured eye and head movements in subjects asked to detect peripherally-presented, moving basketballs. When seated, cortically blind subjects detected ∼80% of balls, while controls detected almost all balls. Seated blind subjects did not make larger head movements than controls, but they consistently biased their fixation distribution towards their blind hemifield. When walking, head movements were similar in the two groups, but the fixation bias decreased to the point that fixation distribution in cortically blind subjects became similar to that in controls - with one major exception: at the time of basketball appearance, walking controls looked primarily at the far ground, in upper quadrants of the virtual field of view; cortically blind subjects looked significantly more at the near ground, in lower quadrants of the virtual field. Cortically blind subjects detected only 58% of the balls when walking while controls detected ∼90%. Thus, the adaptive gaze strategies adopted by cortically blind individuals as a compensation for their visual loss are strongest and most effective when seated and stationary. Walking significantly alters these gaze strategies in a way that seems to favor walking performance, but impairs peripheral target detection. It is possible that this impairment underlies the experienced difficulty of those with cortical blindness when navigating in real life.

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