Fixational saccades alter the gap effect

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Abstract

The reaction times of saccadic eye movements have been studied extensively as a probe for cognitive behavior controlled by large-scale cortical and subcortical neural networks. Recent studies have shown that the reaction times of targeting saccades toward peripheral visual stimuli are prolonged by fixational saccades, the largest miniature eye movements including microsaccades. We have shown previously that the frequency of fixational saccades is decreased by volitional action preparation controlled internally during the antisaccade paradigm (look away from a stimulus). Instead, here we examined whether fixational saccade modulation induced externally by sensory events could also account for targeting saccade facilitation by the same sensory events. When targeting saccades were facilitated by prior fixation stimulus disappearance (gap effect), fixational saccade occurrence was reduced, which could theoretically facilitate targeting saccades. However, such reduction was followed immediately by the rebound of fixational saccade occurrence in some subjects, which could eliminate potential benefits from the previous fixational saccade reduction. These results do not mean that fixational saccades were unrelated to the gap effect because they indeed altered that effect by delaying targeting saccade initiation on trials without the fixation gap more strongly than trials with it. Such changes might be attributed to the disruption of volitional saccade preparation because the frequency of fixational saccades observed in this study was associated with the ability of volitional control over antisaccade behavior. These results suggest that fixational saccades alter the gap effect on targeting saccade reaction times, presumably by disrupting volitional saccade commands.

The reaction times of saccadic eye movements have been studied extensively as a probe for cognitive behavior controlled by large-scale cortical and subcortical neural networks. Recent studies have shown that the reaction times of targeting saccades toward peripheral visual stimuli are prolonged by fixational saccades, the largest miniature eye movements including microsaccades.

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