Cognition, ocular accommodation, and cardiovascular function in emmetropes and late-onset myopes

Leon N. Davies*, James S.W. Wolffsohn, Bernard Gilmartin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE. To investigate objectively and noninvasively the role of cognitive demand on autonomic control of systemic cardiovascular and ocular accommodative responses in emmetropes and myopes of late-onset. METHODS. Sixteen subjects (10 men, 6 women) aged between 18 and 34 years (mean ± SD: 22.6 ± 4.4 years), eight emmetropes (EMMs; mean spherical equivalent [MSE] refractive error ± SD: 0.05 ± 0.24 D) and eight with late-onset myopia (LOMs; MSE ± SD: -3.66 ± 2.31 D) participated in the study. Subjects viewed stationary numerical digits monocularly within a Badal optical system (at both 0.0 and -3.0 D) while performing a two-alternative, forced-choice paradigm that matched cognitive loading across subjects. Five individually matched cognitive levels of increasing difficulty were used in random order for each subject. Five 20-second, continuous-objective recordings of the accommodative response measured with an open-view infrared autorefractor were obtained for each cognitive level, whereas simultaneous measurement of heart rate was continuously recorded with a finger-mounted piezoelectric pulse transducer for 5 minutes. Fast Fourier transformation of cardiovascular function allowed the relative power of the autonomic components to be assessed in the frequency domain, whereas heart period gave an indication of the time-domain response. RESULTS. Increasing the cognitive demand led to a significant reduction in the accommodative response in all subjects (0.0 D: by -0.35 ± 0.33 D; -3.0 D: by -0.31 ± 0.40 D, P < 0.001). The greater lag of LOMs compared with EMMs was not significant (P = 0.07) at both distance (0.38 ± 0.35 D) and near (0.14 ± 0.42 D). Mean heart period reduced with increasing levels of workload (P < 0.0005). LOMs exhibited a relative elevation in sympathetic system activity compared to EMMs. Within refractive groups, however, accommodative shifts with increasing cognition correlated with parasympathetic activity (r = 0.99, P < 0.001), more than with sympathetic activity (r = 0.62, P > 0.05). CONCLUSIONS. In an equivalent workload paradigm, increasing cognitive demand caused a reduction in accommodative response that was attributable principally to a concurrent reduction in the relative power of the parasympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The disparity in accommodative response between EMMs and LOMs, however, appears to be augmented by changes in the sympathetic nervous component of the systemic ANS. Copyright © Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1791-1796
Number of pages6
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2005

Bibliographical note

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  • cognitive demand
  • autonomic control
  • systemic cardiovascular
  • ocular accommodative responses
  • emmetropes
  • myopes
  • late-onset


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