- Even when you think your eyes are staring, fixed in space, they are actually on the go. Their miniature motions prevent you from being blind to most of what is out there.
- Tiny “fixational” eye movements also support our ability to search a visual scene, in concert with the bigger shifts of our eyes of which we are often consciously aware.
- Minute flicks of the eyes called microsaccades can reveal objects that attract our attention.
Look up from this page and scan the scene in front of you. Your eyes dart around, bringing different objects into view. As you read this article, your eyes jump to bring every word into focus. You can become aware of, and even control, these large movements of the eyes, which scientists call saccades. But even when your eyes are apparently fixed on something—say, on a tree, face or word—they are moving imperceptibly, underneath your awareness. And recent research shows that these minute, subconscious eye movements are essential for seeing.
If you could somehow halt these miniature motions, any image you were staring at would fade from view. In fact, you would be rendered blind for most of the day. Although these eye movements have long baffled scientists, only recently have researchers come to appreciate their importance. Indeed, we now have garnered strong evidence that the largest of these involuntary meanderings, the so-called microsaccades, are critical to everyday vision.