Behavioural correlates of ocular accomodation and the autonomic nervous system

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The binding issue of th is thesis was the examination of workload, induced by relinotopic and spatiotopic stimuli, on both the ocu lomotor and cardiovascular systems together with investigating the covariation between the two systems - the 'eye-heart' link. Further, the influence of refractive error on ocular accommodation and cardiovascular function was assessed. A clinical evaluation was undertaken to assess the newly available open-view infrared Shin-Nippon NVision-K 5001 optometer, its benefit being the capability to measure through pupils = 2.3 mm. Measurements of refractive error taken with the NVision-K were found to be both accurate (Difference in Mean Spherical Equivalent: 0.14 ± 0.35 D; p = 0.67) and repeatable when compared to non-cycloplegic subjective refraction. Due to technical difficulties, however, the NVision-K could not be used for the purpose of the thesis, as such, measures of accommodation were taken using the continuously recording Shin-Nippon SRW-5000 openview infrared optometer, coupled with a piezo-electric finger pulse transducer to measure pulse. Heart rate variability (HRV) was spectrally analysed to determine the systemic sympathetic and parasympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). A large sample (n = 60), cross-sectional study showed late-onset myopes (LOMs) display less accurate responses when compared to other refractive groups at high accommodative demand levels (3 .0 0 and 4.0D). Tonic accommodation (TA) was highest in the hypermetropes, fo llowed by emmetropes and early-onset myopes while the LOM subjects demonstrated statistically significant lower levels of TA. The root-meansquare (RMS) value of the accommodative response was shown to amplify with increased levels of accommodative demand. Changes in refractive error only became significant between groups at higher demand levels (3.0 D and 4.0 D) with the LOMs showing the largest magnification in oscilIations. Examination of the stimulus-response cross-over point with the unit ratio line and TA showed a correlation between the two (r = 0.45, p = 0.001), where TA is approximately twice the dioptric value of the stimulus-response cross-over point. Investigation of the relationship between ocular accommodation and systemic ANS function demonstrated covariation between the systems. Subjects with a faster heart rate (lower heart period) tended to have a higher TA value (r = -0.27, p < 0.05). Further, an increase in accommodative demand accompanies a faster heart rate. The influence of refractive error on the cardiovascular response to changes in accommodative demand, however, was equivocal. Examination of the microfluctuations ofacconunodation demonstrated a correlation between the temporal frequency location of the accommodative high Frequency component (HFC) and the arterial pulse frequency. The correlation was present at a range of accommodative demands from 0.0 D to 4.0 D and in all four refractive groups, suggesting that the HFC was augmented by physiological factors. Examination of the effect of visual cognition on ocular accommodation and the ANS confirmed that increasing levels of cognition affect the accommodative mechanism. The accommodative response shifted away from the subject at both near and far. This shift in accommodative response accompanied a decay in the systemic parasympathetic innervation to the heart. Differences between refractive groups also existed with LOMs showing less accurate responses compared to emmetropes. This disparity, however, appeared to be augmented by the systemic sympathetic nervous system. The investigations discussed explored Ihe role of oculomotor and cardiovascular fu nction in workload enviromnents, providing evidence for a behavioural link between the cardiovascular and oculomotor systems.

Date of Award2004
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJames Wolffsohn (Supervisor) & Bernard Gilmartin (Supervisor)


  • behavioural correlates
  • ocular accomodation
  • autonomic nervous system
  • accommodation
  • heart rate variability
  • refractive error
  • cognition

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