Shortening and prolongation of saccade latencies following microsaccades
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When the eyes fixate at a point in a visual scene, small saccades rapidly shift the image on the retina. The effect of these microsaccades on the latency of subsequent large-scale saccades may be twofold. First, microsaccades are associated with an enhancement of visual perception. Their occurrence during saccade target perception could, thus, decrease saccade latencies. Second, microsaccades are likely to indicate activity in fixation-related oculomotor neurons. These represent competitors to saccade-related cells in the interplay of gaze holding and shifting. Consequently, an increase in saccade latencies would be expected after microsaccades. Here, we present evidence for both aspects of microsaccadic impact on saccade latency. In a delayed response task, participants made saccades to visible or memorized targets. First, microsaccade occurrence up to 50 ms before target disappearance correlated with 18 ms (or 8%) faster saccades to memorized targets. Second, if microsaccades occurred shortly (i.e., <150 ms) before a saccade was required, mean saccadic reaction time in visual and memory trials was increased by about 40 ms (or 16%). Hence, microsaccades can have opposite consequences for saccade latencies, pointing at a differential role of these fixational eye movements in the preparation of saccade motor programs.
KeywordsFixational eye movements Memory-guided saccades Visually guided saccades
We thank Eike Martin Richter, Ralf Engbert, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful conversation and/or comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. This research was supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Grants KL955/3 and /6).
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