Saccade Eye Movement: Definition & Test

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  • 0:02 What Is Saccade Eye Movement?
  • 0:30 The Purpose of Saccade…
  • 1:58 Different Types of…
  • 4:22 Saccade Tests
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Eye movement is largely an involuntary response, one you don't think about making. Ever hear of saccade eye movement? Here's a hint: you're using it right now. Read on for a clearer definition and methods of testing.

What Is Saccade Eye Movement?

We move our eyes in lots of different ways; from watching a baseball game to following these words across the page, your eyes make many different movements. Saccade eye movement describes that fast shift your eyes make when looking at a still scene. These movements are also sometimes called saccades and were first described by a French ophthalmologist named Louis Emile Javal. Let's take a closer look at what saccades are.

The Purpose of Saccade Eye Movements

Saccades are quick movements made by the eye, characterized by a sudden change from point to point. Sometimes these movements are small, like the ones your eyes are making as you read right now. They can also be bigger, like when you're looking at a large painting hanging on the wall. Although some saccades can be done on purpose, or voluntarily, most of the time, they are a reflex that happens without awareness.

Saccades are important to us as they allow us to look at something, like a picture, and take in the interesting parts instead of looking at just one piece at a time. Take a look at this picture below:

Your eyes scan the picture using saccade movements.

As you viewed this picture, your eyes noticed the interesting parts, like the barn, silo, or rows of plants. The points your eyes rested on between rapid movements are called fixations. As you looked at various parts of the picture, your brain noted images and made sense of them. Take a look around the room you're in; if you pay close attention to what your eyes are doing, you'll notice that they make quick, jerky movements from point to point and stop a few times. You don't think about quickly shifting your gaze or stopping on fixed points; it just happens. Why is this?

It turns out that the fovea, the part of your eye responsible for determining what an object is, only accounts for about one or two degrees of your vision. That's pretty small considering the big job it has to do. To make up for this small window, your eyes move around quickly to make sense of what you're seeing.

Different Types of Saccade Eye Movement

There are several kinds of saccades that can be grouped by their characteristics, such as reflexive saccades, memory-guided saccades, and predictive saccades.

Reflexive Saccades happen as the eye moves towards a stimulus. For example, imagine you're driving a car and notice a flashing light in your rearview mirror. Your eyes naturally move toward this stimulus. This is an example of a visually guided saccade. These can be reflexive, as in the driving example, or scanning, as in when you looked at the barn picture.

This type of saccade is made in response to our eyes seeing objects in our peripheral vision, or the things we see out of the sides of our eyes. These types of saccades are, as the name implies, involuntary reflexes. In other words, you do not think about them. Your eyes move to the stimulus on their own, much like your knee jerks when the doctor hits it with his little hammer to test your reflexes in that area.

Memory-guided saccades happen when something or someone activates the memory surrounding the object or the person itself. Every time I enter my daughter's school, my eyes go straight to a large mural on the wall, not because it's a stimulus or necessarily attractive, but because I know her handprints are on the mural. The eye movement towards the mural is an example of memory-guided saccade. My memory of her handprints, rather than a stimulus, guides it.

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