A comparison of pursuit eye movement and perceptual performance in speed discrimination

Karl R. Gegenfurtner, Dajun Xing, Brian H. Scott, Michael J. Hawken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Currently there is considerable debate as to the nature of the pathways that are responsible for the perception and motor performance. We have studied the relationship between perceived speed, which is the experiential representation of a moving stimulus, and the speed of smooth pursuit eye movements, the motor action. We determined psychophysical thresholds for detecting small perturbations in the speed of moving patterns, and then by an ideal observer analysis computed analogous "oculometric" thresholds from the eye movement traces elicited by the same stimuli on the same trials. Our results confirm those of previous studies that show a remarkable agreement between perceptual judgments for speed discrimination and the fine gradations in eye movement speed. We analyzed the initial pursuit period of long duration (1000 ms) and short (200 ms) duration perturbations. When we compared the errors for perception and pursuit on a trial-by-trial basis there was no correlation between perceptual errors and eye movement errors. The observation that both oculometric and psychometric performance were similar, with Weber fractions in the normal range, but that there is no correlation in the errors suggests that the motor system and perception share the same constraints in their analysis of motion signals, but act independently and have different noise sources. We simulated noise in two models of perceptual and eye movement performance. In the first model we postulate an initial common source for the perceptual and eye movement signals. In that case about ten times the observed noise is required to produce no correlation in trial-by-trial performance. In the second model we postulate that the perceptual signal is a combination of a reafferent eye velocity signal plus the perturbation signal while the pursuit signal is derived from the oculomotor plant plus the perturbation signal. In this model about three times the noise level in the independent signals will mask any correlation due to the common perturbation signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-876
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 22 2003


  • Perception and action
  • Smooth pursuit
  • Speed perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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