Nguyen, Tammy; Stark, Lawrence R.

Surround Propinquity and Tonic Accommodation

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Previous studies of dark focus have found evidence of a propinquity response, in which subjects accommodate to the perceived distance of their surroundings despite being in absolute darkness. Their distance perception in a lighted room allows a spatial representation to persist within the darkened room. This study sought to establish the significance and magnitude of the propinquity response in a large sample of young adults, and to determine whether the propinquity response can be predicted by a subject’s initial dark focus in an unknown dark room.


Dark focus was measured with a dynamic infrared optometer (Plusoptix PowerRef 3) in 30 young adult subjects, 26 of whom were naive to the testing room and its dimensions. Dark focus was then measured at varying dioptric wall distances of 0.25–4D. The subject viewed the lighted room before each measurement. For each individual, the dark focus was plotted as a function of dioptric wall distance. The slope of this function was used as a measure of the propinquity response.



The mean initial dark focus value was 1.05D (SD 1.04D) for the 26 naive subjects. The mean slope of the plot of dark focus as a function of dioptric wall distance was small (+0.097), yet highly statistically significant (P = .0002). The propinquity response function showed no statistically significant quadratic or cubic trends, and so may be considered linear. No statistically significant correlation was found between naive dark focus and propinquity response (r = +0.246, P = .226).


Propinquity seems to be a small but statistically significant factor in dark focus measurements. Though it is unlikely to contaminate tonic accommodation measurements in large samples under normal laboratory conditions, a minority of individuals exhibit large propinquity responses equal to that of proximal accommodation in lighted conditions.

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