What is it about?

Even though our vision is at its very best in terms of acuity and resolution near our line of sight (where our gaze is currently directed), we found that we are paradoxically quite poor when trying to recall locations at our gaze direction from short term memory.

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Why is it important?

Even though humans heavily rely on foveal vision (vision through the part of the image where our gaze is directed), the mechanisms associated with foveal vision remain poorly understood. This has historically been the case due to difficulty in studying very small visual image regions in the fovea. Moreover, despite decades of research, the brain mechanisms for short term memory maintenance remain to be debated. Our results link two enigmatic fields (foveal vision and short term memory representations) by revealing a highly unexpected finding. With this finding, we specifically clarify the mechanisms with which short term memory can be implemented on existing sensory and motor neural substrates representing our spatial environment.

Perspectives

Vision is such an important modality for humans, and it is implicated in even evoking other sensations (such as touch and pain). Therefore, clinical understanding of a variety of pathological conditions in which body perception, sense of agency, or movement control is compromised can only be fully achieved with a more complete understanding of the visual system, and foveal vision in particular. At the other end of the spectrum, in terms of technological applications, there is strong interest nowadays in virtual and/or augmented reality applications, whether for entertainment, productivity, or clinical rehabilitation. In all of these cases, a computer needs to project images to the visual system, often through eye glasses or a complete headset. Our findings provide constraints for technologists to optimize stimulus presentation for optimal communication with the user. For example, if the headset has an eye tracker, then the computer can assess which parts of the visual image to provide information to, either to maximize detectability by the user (if the goal is to alert the user) or to minimize detectability by the user (if the goal is to avoid distracting the user). Similarly, the computer can assess which parts of the recently presented image the user will best remember.

Ziad Hafed
Eberhard Karls Universitat Tubingen

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This page is a summary of: Severe distortion in the representation of foveal visual image locations in short-term memory, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2121860119.
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