Saccadic facilitation by modulation of microsaccades in natural backgrounds

Petra Sinn, Ralf Engbert

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Saccades move objects of interest into the center of the visual field for high-acuity visual analysis. White, Stritzke, and Gegenfurtner (Current Biology, 18, 124–128, 2008) have shown that saccadic latencies in the context of a structured background are much shorter than those with an unstructured background at equal levels of visibility. This effect has been explained by possible preactivation of the saccadic circuitry whenever a structured background acts as a mask for potential saccade targets. Here, we show that background textures modulate rates of microsaccades during visual fixation. First, after a display change, structured backgrounds induce a stronger decrease of microsaccade rates than do uniform backgrounds. Second, we demonstrate that the occurrence of a microsaccade in a critical time window can delay a subsequent saccadic response. Taken together, our findings suggest that microsaccades contribute to the saccadic facilitation effect, due to a modulation of micro- saccade rates by properties of the background.

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics