Active efficient coding explains the development of binocular vision and its failure in amblyopia

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Mar 17;117(11):6156-6162. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1908100117. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


The development of vision during the first months of life is an active process that comprises the learning of appropriate neural representations and the learning of accurate eye movements. While it has long been suspected that the two learning processes are coupled, there is still no widely accepted theoretical framework describing this joint development. Here, we propose a computational model of the development of active binocular vision to fill this gap. The model is based on a formulation of the active efficient coding theory, which proposes that eye movements as well as stimulus encoding are jointly adapted to maximize the overall coding efficiency. Under healthy conditions, the model self-calibrates to perform accurate vergence and accommodation eye movements. It exploits disparity cues to deduce the direction of defocus, which leads to coordinated vergence and accommodation responses. In a simulated anisometropic case, where the refraction power of the two eyes differs, an amblyopia-like state develops in which the foveal region of one eye is suppressed due to inputs from the other eye. After correcting for refractive errors, the model can only reach healthy performance levels if receptive fields are still plastic, in line with findings on a critical period for binocular vision development. Overall, our model offers a unifying conceptual framework for understanding the development of binocular vision.

Keywords: accommodation; active perception; amblyopia; efficient coding; vergence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accommodation, Ocular / physiology
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Eye / growth & development*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Models, Biological*
  • Refraction, Ocular / physiology
  • Vision Disparity / physiology
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / growth & development*