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The oblique effect has an optical component: Orientation-specific contrast thresholds after correction of high-order aberrations

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Most of the high-order aberrations of the eye are not circularly symmetric. Hence, while it is well known that human vision is subject to cortically based orientation preference in cell tuning, the optics of the eye might also introduce some orientational anisotropy. We tested this idea by measuring contrast sensitivity at different orientations of sine-wave gratings when viewing through a closed-loop adaptive optics phoropter. Under aberration-corrected conditions, mean contrast sensitivity improved for all observers by a factor of 1.8× to 5×. The detectability of some orientations improved more than others. As expected, this orientation-specific effect varied between individuals. The sensitivity benefits were accurately predicted from MTF model simulations, demonstrating that the observed effects reflected the individual's pattern of high-order aberrations. In one observer, the orientation-specific effects were substantial: an improvement of 8× at one orientation and 2× in another orientation. The experiments confirm that, for conditions that are not diffraction limited, the optics of the eye introduce rotational asymmetry to the luminance distribution on the retina and that this impacts vision, inducing orientational anisotropy. These results suggest that the traditional view of meridional anisotropy having an entirely neural origin may be true for diffraction-limited pupils but that viewing through larger pupils introduces an additional orientation-specific optical component to this phenomenon.

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