Control of fixation duration during scene viewing by interaction of foveal and peripheral processing

Jochen Laubrock, Anke Cajar, Ralf Engbert

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Processing in our visual system is functionally segregated, with the fovea specialized in processing fine detail (high spatial frequencies) for object identification, and the periphery in processing coarse information (low frequencies) for spatial orienting and saccade target selection. Here we investigate the consequences of this functional segregation for the control of fixation durations during scene viewing. Using gaze-contingent displays, we applied high-pass or low-pass filters to either the central or the peripheral visual field and compared eye-movement patterns with an unfiltered control condition. In contrast with predictions from functional segregation, fixation durations were unaffected when the critical information for vision was strongly attenuated (foveal low-pass and peripheral high-pass filtering); fixation durations increased, however, when useful information was left mostly intact by the filter (foveal high-pass and peripheral low-pass filtering). These patterns of results are difficult to explain under the assumption that fixation durations are controlled by foveal processing difficulty. As an alternative explanation, we developed the hypothesis that the interaction of foveal and peripheral processing controls fixation duration. To investigate the viability of this explanation, we implemented a computational model with two compartments, approximating spatial aspects of processing by foveal and peripheral activations that change according to a small set of dynamical rules. The model reproduced distributions of fixation durations from all experimental conditions by variation of few parameters that were affected by specific filtering conditions.

Journal of Vision