Humans exhibit considerable individuality in their propensity to make head movements during horizontal saccades. These variations originate in multiple quantifiable characteristics, including individuals’ preferred ranges of gaze, eye-in-head, and head-on-neck eccentricity. Such “eye–head tendencies” have been uniformly assessed in seated subjects. It is unknown whether they continue to influence behavior when subjects are in motion. Previous studies of eye–head coordination in subjects ambulating in laboratories would predict that wholly different eye–head tendencies become ascendant when subjects ambulate. We tested this prediction by recording eye and head positions in normal subjects in an outdoor environment as they spontaneously regarded their surroundings while seated, passively riding in a wheelchair, and ambulating. Individuals exhibited the usual subject-to-subject variations in the preferred ranges of eye, head, and gaze position, but their own behavior was similar across the different conditions. While ambulation did affect some of the measured eye–head tendencies, passively riding had similar effects, indicating that these effects relate more to motion through the environment than to the act of walking. In a surprising departure from studies of eye–head coordination in subjects ambulating in laboratory environments, neither head nor gaze was particularly strongly aligned with the direction of travel. Thus, the neural mechanisms of walking do not demand that specific gaze or head orientations be maintained continuously, at least not in the common situation of a non-challenging path that can be negotiated without much attention. In such situations eye and head control is flexible, and the eye–head tendencies manifesting when stationary can emerge.
Saccade Walking Eye–head coordination Gaze saccade Eye–head saccade Head-mover Human
The study was supported by a Merit Award from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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