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May 1972

La Fonction du Regard (The Function of Gaze).

Arch Ophthalmol. 1972;87(5):593. doi:10.1001/archopht.1972.01000020595019

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In G. K. Chesterton's detective story "The Invisible Man" the murderer turns out to be a postman, who enters a building, commits a crime, and then walks away unnoticed. Obviously no one was surprised to see a postman on his daily rounds. Ironically, therefore, his invisibility was due to the fact his appearance was expected.

Grey Walter, one of the contributors to the book, uses this story to illustrate the point that vision is more than just registering retinal images. He notes that in the laboratory a stabilized retinal image, one which becomes locked onto a specific retinal area, quickly fades. It can only be restored if its contours are altered, or if it is simply made darker or fainter. Thus in any form of visual habituation, if the retinal image becomes predictable, it becomes less newsworthy to the subject, and so it elicits less and less of a response.

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