Physiological correlates of a simple saccadic-decision task to extended objects in superior colliculus

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Our vision is best only in the center of our gaze, and we use saccadic eye movements to direct gaze to objects and features of interest. We make more than 180,000 saccades per day, and accurate and efficient saccades are crucial for most visuo-motor tasks. Saccades are typically studied using small point stimuli, despite the fact that most real-world visual scenes are composed of extended objects. Recent studies in humans have shown that the initiation latency of saccades is strongly dependent on the size of the target (the “size-latency effect”), perhaps reflecting a tradeoff between the cost of making a saccade to a target and the expected information gain that would result. Here, we investigate the neuronal correlates of the size-latency effect in the macaque superior colliculus. We analyzed the latency variations of saccades to different size targets within a stochastic accumulator model framework. The model predicted a steeper increase in activity for smaller targets compared to larger ones. Surprisingly, the model also predicted an increase in saccade initiation threshold for larger targets. We found that the activity of intermediate-layer SC visuomotor neurons is in close agreement with the model predictions. We also found evidence that these effects may be a consequence of the visual responses of SC neurons to targets of different sizes. These results shed new light on the sources of delay within the saccadic system, a system that we heavily depend upon in the performance of most visuo-motor tasks.

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