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Halim Hicheur, Steeve Zozor, Aurélie Campagne, Alan Chauvin; Microsaccades are modulated by both attentional demands of a visual discrimination task and background noise. Journal of Vision 2013;13(13):18. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/13.13.18.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Microsaccades are miniature saccades occurring once or twice per second during visual fixation. While microsaccades and saccades share similarities at the oculomotor level, the functional roles of microsaccades are still debated. In this study, we examined the hypothesis that the microsaccadic activity is affected by the type of noisy background during the execution of a particular discrimination task. Human subjects had to judge the orientation of a tilted stimulus embedded in static or dynamic backgrounds in a forced choice-task paradigm, as adapted from Rucci, Iovin, Poletti, and Santini (2007). Static backgrounds induced more microsaccades than dynamic ones only during the execution of the discrimination task. A directional bias of microsaccades, dictated by the stimulus orientation, was temporally coupled with this period of increased activity. Both microsaccade rates and orientations were comparable across background types after the response time although subjects maintained fixation until the end of the trial. This represents a background-specific modulation of the microsaccadic activity driven by attentional demands. The visual influence of microsaccades on discrimination performances was modeled at the retinal level for both types of backgrounds. A higher simulated microsaccadic activity was necessary for static backgrounds in order to achieve discrimination performance scores comparable to that of dynamic ones. Taken together, our experimental and theoretical findings further support the idea that microsaccades are under attentional control and represent an efficient sampling strategy allowing spatial information acquisition.
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