Automatic and intentional influences on saccade landing

18 Aug 2017

Saccadic eye movements enable us to rapidly direct our high-resolution fovea onto relevant parts of the visual world. However, while we can intentionally select a location as a saccade target, the wider visual scene also influences our executed movements. In the presence of multiple objects, eye movements may be "captured" to the location of a distractor object, or be biased toward the intermediate position between objects (the "global effect"). Here we examined how the relative strengths of the global effect and visual object capture changed with saccade latency, the separation between visual items and stimulus contrast. Importantly, while many previous studies have omitted giving observers explicit instructions, we instructed participants to either saccade to a specified target object or to the midpoint between two stimuli. This allowed us to examine how their explicit movement goal influenced the likelihood that their saccades terminated at either the target, distractor, or intermediate locations. Using a probabilistic mixture model, we found evidence that both visual object capture and the global effect co-occurred at short latencies and declined as latency increased. As object separation increased, capture came to dominate the landing positions of fast saccades, with reduced global effect. Using the mixture model fits, we dissociated the proportion of unavoidably captured saccades to each location from those intentionally directed to the task goal. From this we could extract the time course of competition between automatic capture and intentional targeting. We show that task instructions substantially altered the distribution of saccade landing points, even at the shortest latencies. NEW & NOTEWORTHY: When making an eye movement to a target location, the presence of a nearby distractor can cause the saccade to unintentionally terminate at the distractor itself or the average position in between stimuli. With probabilistic mixture models, we quantified how both unavoidable capture and goal-directed targeting were influenced by changing the task and the target-distractor separation. Using this novel technique, we could extract the time course over which automatic and intentional processes compete for control of saccades.