Visual sensing of the sign of defocus is important not only for the rapid control of accommodation but also for regulating the slower long-term growth of the eye.
We examined the possibility that ocular spherical aberration (SA) elicits a sign of defocus by optical modeling of image formation using the principles of physical optics.
Retinal image contrast, as measured by the area under the visually weighted modulation-transfer function, depends on both the magnitude and the sign of defocus relative to the sign of the SA. Image contrast is greater for hyperopic blur than for myopic blur when SA is positive and vice versa when SA is negative.
When coupled with Wallman’s hypothesis that retinal activity caused by image contrast inhibits eye growth, these results provide a testable hypothesis to account for myopia progression. For example, we suggest that hyperopic blur is a risk factor for myopia progression only when the eye has a negative SA because that is the combination leading to relatively low contrast in the defocused retinal image. Because the likelihood of a negative SA increases with accommodation, avoiding long hours of near work in the presence of accommodative lag may help prevent the onset and progression of myopia.