Macular degeneration affects eye movement behavior during visual search

Stefan Van der Stigchel*, Richard A I Bethlehem, Barrie P. Klein, Tos T J M Berendschot, Tanja C W Nijboer, Serge O. Dumoulin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Patients with a scotoma in their central vision (e.g., due to macular degeneration, MD) commonly adopt a strategy to direct the eyes such that the image falls onto a peripheral location on the retina. This location is referred to as the preferred retinal locus (PRL). Although previous research has investigated the characteristics of this PRL, it is unclear whether eye movement metrics are modulated by peripheral viewing with a PRL as measured during a visual search paradigm. To this end, we tested four MD patients in a visual search paradigm and contrasted their performance with a healthy control group and a healthy control group performing the same experiment with a simulated scotoma. The experiment contained two conditions. In the first condition the target was an unfilled circle hidden among c-shaped distractors (serial condition) and in the second condition the target was a filled circle (pop-out condition). Saccadic search latencies for the MD group were significantly longer in both conditions compared to both control groups. Results of a subsequent experiment indicated that this difference between the MD and the control groups could not be explained by a difference in target selection sensitivity. Furthermore, search behavior of MD patients was associated with saccades with smaller amplitudes toward the scotoma, an increased intersaccadic interval and an increased number of eye movements necessary to locate the target. Some of these characteristics, such as the increased intersaccadic interval, were also observed in the simulation group, which indicate that these characteristics are related to the peripheral viewing itself. We suggest that the combination of the central scotoma and peripheral viewing can explain the altered search behavior and no behavioral evidence was found for a possible reorganization of the visual system associated with the use of a PRL. Thus the switch from a fovea-based to a PRL-based reference frame impairs search efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 579
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberSEP
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2013


  • Eye movements
  • Macular degeneration
  • Preferred retinal location
  • Saccades
  • Visual search


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