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Pulfrich’s phenomenon in unilateral cataract
  1. Stephen M Scotchera,
  2. D Alistair H Laidlawb,
  3. Christopher R Canninga,
  4. Mark J Wealc,
  5. Richard A Harradd
  1. aSouthampton Eye Unit, bDepartment of Ophthalmology, University of Bristol, cDepartment of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, dBristol Eye Hospital
  1. Mr S M Scotcher, Birmingham and Midlands Eye Centre, City Hospital NHS Trust, Dudley Road, Birmingham B18 7QU.


AIMS To determine whether unilateral cataract causes a pathological Pulfrich’s phenomenon.

METHODS 29 subjects with unilateral cataract and contralateral pseudophakia were assessed on their ability to perceive the Pulfrich phenomenon. Using a computer generated pendulum image, and graded neutral density filters, a series of forced choice trials were performed in which the subject was required to describe the direction of any apparent pendulum rotation. A pathological Pulfrich effect was said to occur when apparent rotation was perceived in the presence of a zero strength neutral density filter. The size of any pathological Pulfrich effect which was present was quantified by neutralising the perceived pendulum rotation with neutral density filters of varying strength placed before the better seeing eye.

RESULTS 20 out of 29 subjects were able to perceive apparent pendulum rotation when uniocular filtering was performed. In the group (n=12) which was tested both before and after cataract extraction with intraocular lens implantation, a statistically significant pathological Pulfrich effect was demonstrated preoperatively, compared with a group of normal control subjects. This effect was abolished after cataract extraction (p=0.009). The median size of the effect was equivalent to a 0.25 log unit neutral density filter over the non-cataractous eye. The subjects who were unable to perceive the Pulfrich phenomenon at all had a significantly greater difference in the visual acuity of each eye (p=0.045) and significantly worse stereoacuity than those who were able to perceive the effect (p=0.002).

CONCLUSIONS Unilateral cataract can cause a pathological Pulfrich phenomenon. This finding may explain why some patients with unilateral cataract complain of visual symptoms that are not easily accounted for in terms of visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, or stereoacuity.

  • Pulfrich phenomenon
  • cataract

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