Effects of head tilt on stereopsis

Binocul Vis Strabismus Q. 2008;23(2):95-104.


Purpose: Depth perception is an important part of many everyday tasks such as driving, catching a ball, and threading a needle. Binocular cues such as horizontal retinal image disparity (HRID) are significant cues to depth and play an important role in overall depth perception. Stereoscopic threshold (stereoacuity) is directly proportional to the interpupillary distance (IPD). Therefore, decreasing the IPD would predictably decrease streoacuity. Tilting the head toward one shoulder or the other will decrease the horizontal separation between the eyes thereby decreasing the IPD. This results in a decrease in stereoacuity. Although this has been demonstrated mathematically it has yet to be shown to have clinical significance.

Methods: All subjects had normal vision, eye alignment, and ocular health. Stereoacuity was evaluated using the BVAT distance stereoacuity test with the subject's head upright as well as when tilted to the right and left at 10, 20 and 30 degrees. A digital potograph verified the head tilt and IPD. The median stereoacuity for each head position was analyzed using the Friedman Test and pair-wise comparisons were made between different head positions using the Paired T-Test.

Results: 77.2% (44/57) of subjects exhibited a decrese in stereoacuity of at least 15 arc-sec with head tilt. The median change in stereoacuity from the upright was 22.5 to 45 arc-sec for the 6 head tilt positions (P 0.001). Although statistically the decrease in stereoacuity was not linear with regard to head tilt, there was an almost linear correlation between increasing head tilt and decreasing stereoacuity.

Conclusions: Head tilt to either the left or right creates a relative decrease in interpupillary distance with regards to the horizontal plane. This effective decrease in IPD results in a decrease in a subject's stereoacuity. Additionally, the greater the head tilt, the greater the loss of stereoacuity. This information is useful in counseling individuals, especially those engaged in activities where stereoacuity is critical to performance, to make a special effort to maintain a straight head position.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depth Perception / physiology*
  • Head Movements*
  • Humans
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology
  • Visual Acuity / physiology