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Microsaccades are a kind of fixational eye movement. They are small, jerk-like, involuntary eye movements, similar to miniature versions of voluntary saccades. They typically occur during prolonged visual fixation (of at least several seconds), not only in humans, but also in animals with foveal vision (primates, cats, etc.). Microsaccade amplitudes vary from 2 to 120 arcminutes. The first empirical evidence for their existence was provided by Robert Darwin, the father of Charles Darwin.[1][2]


The role of microsaccades in visual perception has been a highly debated topic that is still largely unresolved. It has been proposed that microsaccades correct displacements in eye position produced by drifts, although non-corrective microsaccades also occur. Some work has suggested that microsaccades are directly correlated with the perception of illusory motion[3][4][5], and that microsaccades enhance vision of fine spatial detail.[6][7] Microsaccades were also believed to prevent the retinal image from fading, but they do not occur often enough for that purpose, considering that perfectly stabilized images can disappear from perception in a few seconds or less. The current consensus is that all fixational eye movements are important for the maintenance of visibility.[further explanation needed]

Microsaccades are tied to complex visual processing like reading. The specific timing pattern of microsaccades in humans changes during reading based on the structure of the word being read.[8][non-primary source needed]

Experiments in neurophysiology from different laboratories showed that fixational eye movements, particularly microsaccades, strongly modulate the activity of neurons in the visual areas of the macaque brain. In the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and the primary visual cortex (V1), microsaccades can move a stationary stimulus in and out of a neuron's receptive field, thereby producing transient neural responses.[citation needed] Microsaccades might account for much of the response variability of neurons in visual area V1 of the awake monkey.

Current research in visual neuroscience and psychophysics is investigating how microsaccades relate to fixation correction, control of binocular fixation disparity and attentional shifts.

ADHD subjects fail to suppress eye blinks and microsaccades while anticipating visual stimuli but recover with medication. Microsaccade movements might therefore be used as a diagnostic test for ADHD, although this has not been clinically validated.[9] The assessment of microsaccades can also help in the diagnosis of multiple other neurological and ophthalmological conditions.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Darwin, R. W.; Darwin, E. (1786). "New Experiments on the Ocular Spectra of Light and Colours". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 76: 313–348. doi:10.1098/rstl.1786.0016. JSTOR 106628.
  2. ^ Rolfs, Martin (2009). "Microsaccades: Small steps on a long way". Vision Research. 49 (20): 2415–41. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2009.08.010. PMID 19683016.
  3. ^ "Optical illusions: caused by eye or brain?"
  4. ^ 200-year-old Scientific Debate Involving Visual Illusions
  5. ^ The truth behind 'Where's Waldo?'
  6. ^ Rucci, M., Iovin, R., Poletti, M., Santini, F. (2007). "Miniature Eye Movements Enhance Fine Spatial Detail." Nature,447(7146), 851-854.
  7. ^ "Eye flickers key for fine detail". BBC News. June 2007.
  8. ^ Yablonski, M; Polat, U; Bonneh, YS; Ben-Shachar, M (21 June 2017). "Microsaccades are sensitive to word structure: A novel approach to study language processing". Scientific Reports. 7 (1): 3999. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04391-4. PMID 28638094.
  9. ^ Fried, M; Tsitsiashvili, E; Bonneh, YS; Sterkin, A; Wygnanski-Jaffe, T; Epstein, T; Polat, U (2014). "ADHD subjects fail to suppress eye blinks and microsaccades while anticipating visual stimuli but recover with medication". Vision Research. 101: 62–72. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2014.05.004. PMID 24863585.
  10. ^ Alexander, Robert; Macknik, Stephen; Martinez-Conde, Susana (2018). "Microsaccade Characteristics in Neurological and Ophthalmic Disease". Frontiers in Neurology. 9 (144). doi:10.3389/fneur.2018.00144.