Saliency and Saccade Encoding in the Frontal Eye Field During Natural Scene Search

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The frontal eye field (FEF) plays a central role in saccade selection and execution. Using artificial stimuli, many studies have shown that the activity of neurons in the FEF is affected by both visually salient stimuli in a neuron's receptive field and upcoming saccades in a certain direction. However, the extent to which visual and motor information is represented in the FEF in the context of the cluttered natural scenes we encounter during everyday life has not been explored. Here, we model the activities of neurons in the FEF, recorded while monkeys were searching natural scenes, using both visual and saccade information. We compare the contribution of bottom-up visual saliency (based on low-level features such as brightness, orientation, and color) and saccade direction. We find that, while saliency is correlated with the activities of some neurons, this relationship is ultimately driven by activities related to movement. Although bottom-up visual saliency contributes to the choice of saccade targets, it does not appear that FEF neurons actively encode the kind of saliency posited by popular saliency map theories. Instead, our results emphasize the FEF's role in the stages of saccade planning directly related to movement generation.

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