Central and peripheral fields of view extract information of different quality and serve different roles during visual tasks. Past research has studied this dichotomy on-screen in conditions remote from natural situations where the scene would be omnidirectional and the entire field of view could be of use. In this study, we had participants looking for objects in simulated everyday rooms in virtual reality. By implementing a gaze-contingent protocol we masked central or peripheral vision (masks of 6 deg. of radius) during trials. We analyzed the impact of vision loss on visuo-motor variables related to fixation (duration) and saccades (amplitude and relative directions). An important novelty is that we segregated eye, head and the general gaze movements in our analyses. Additionally, we studied these measures after separating trials into two search phases (scanning and verification). Our results generally replicate past on-screen literature and teach about the role of eye and head movements. We showed that the scanning phase is dominated by short fixations and long saccades to explore, and the verification phase by long fixations and short saccades to analyze. One finding indicates that eye movements are strongly driven by visual stimulation, while head movements serve a higher behavioral goal of exploring omnidirectional scenes. Moreover, losing central vision has a smaller impact than reported on-screen, hinting at the importance of peripheral scene processing for visual search with an extended field of view. Our findings provide more information concerning how knowledge gathered on-screen may transfer to more natural conditions, and attest to the experimental usefulness of eye tracking in virtual reality.
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