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Stereopsis is adaptive for the natural environment

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Humans and many animals have forward-facing eyes providing different views of the environment. Precise depth estimates can be derived from the resulting binocular disparities, but determining which parts of the two retinal images correspond to one another is computationally challenging. To aid the computation, the visual system focuses the search on a small range of disparities. We asked whether the disparities encountered in the natural environment match that range. We did this by simultaneously measuring binocular eye position and three-dimensional scene geometry during natural tasks. The natural distribution of disparities is indeed matched to the smaller range of correspondence search. Furthermore, the distribution explains the perception of some ambiguous stereograms. Finally, disparity preferences of macaque cortical neurons are consistent with the natural distribution.

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