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Rakesh Nanjappa, Robert M. McPeek; Microsaccades and attention in a high-acuity visual alignment task. Journal of Vision 2021;21(2):6. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.21.2.6.
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While aiming and shooting, we make tiny eye movements called microsaccades that shift gaze between task-relevant objects within a small region of the visual field. However, in the brief period before pressing the trigger, microsaccades are suppressed. This might be due to the lack of a requirement to shift gaze as the retinal images of the two objects begin to overlap on the fovea. Alternatively, we might actively suppress microsaccades to prevent any disturbances in visual perception caused by microsaccades around the time of their occurrence and their subsequent effect on shooting performance. In this study we looked at microsaccade rates while participants performed a simulated shooting task under two conditions: a normal condition in which they moved their eyes freely, and an eccentric condition in which they maintained gaze on a fixed target while performing the shooting task at 5° eccentricity. As expected, microsaccade rate dropped near the end of the task in the normal viewing condition. However, we also found the same decrease for the eccentric condition in which microsaccades did not shift gaze between the task objects. Microsaccades are also produced in response to shifts in covert attention. To test whether disengagement of covert attention from the eccentric shooting location caused the drop in microsaccade rate, we monitored the location of participants’ spatial attention by using a Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) task simultaneously at a location opposite to the shooting task. Target letter detection at the RSVP location did not improve during the drop in microsaccade rate, suggesting that covert attention was maintained at the shooting task location. We conclude that in addition to their usual gaze-shifting function, microsaccades during fine-acuity tasks might be modulated by cognitive processes other than spatial attention.
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