Fixational Instability and Natural Image Statistics: Implications for Early Visual Representations
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Under natural viewing conditions small movements of the eye, head, and body prevent the maintenance of a steady direction of gaze. It is known that stimuli tend to fade when they a restabilized on the retina for several seconds. However; it is unclear whether the physiological motion of the retinal image serves a visual purpose during the brief periods of natural visual fixation. This study examines the impact of fixational instability on the statistics of the visua1 input to the retina and on the structure of neural activity in the early visual system. We show that fixational instability introduces a component in the retinal input signals that in the presence of natural images, lacks spatial correlations. This component strongly influences neural activity in a model of the LGN. It decorrelates cell responses even if the contrast sensitivity functions of simulated cells arc not perfectly tuned to counterbalance the power-law spectrum of natural images. A decorrelation of neural activity at the early stages of the visual system has been proposed to be beneficial for discarding statistical redundancies in the input signals. The results of this study suggest that fixational instability might contribute to establishing efficient representations of natural stimuli.