Inefficient Search Strategies in Simulated Hemianopia

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We investigated whether healthy participants can spontaneously adopt effective eye movement strategies to compensate for information loss similar to that experienced by patients with damage to visual cortex (hemianopia). Visual information in 1 hemifield was removed or degraded while participants searched for an emotional face among neutral faces or a line tilted 45° to the right among lines of varying degree of tilt. A bias to direct saccades toward the sighted field was observed across all 4 experiments. The proportion of saccades directed toward the “blind” field increased with the amount of information available in that field, suggesting fixations are driven toward salient visual stimuli rather than toward locations that maximize information gain. In Experiments 1 and 2, the sighted-field bias had a minimal impact on search efficiency, because the target was difficult to find. However, the sighted-field bias persisted even when the target was visually distinct from the distractors and could easily be detected in the periphery (Experiments 3 and 4). This surprisingly inefficient search behavior suggests that eye movements are biased to salient visual stimuli even when it comes at a clear cost to search efficiency, and efficient strategies to compensate for visual deficits are not spontaneously adopted by healthy participants.

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