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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2014 Feb;76(2):367-82. doi: 10.3758/s13414-013-0592-0.

Early top-down control over saccadic target selection: Evidence from a systematic salience difference manipulation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Leopoldstr. 13, 80802, Munich, Germany,


Previous research on the contribution of top-down control to saccadic target selection has suggested that eye movements, especially short-latency saccades, are primarily salience driven. The present study was designed to systematically examine top-down influences as a function of time and relative salience difference between target and distractor. Observers performed a saccadic selection task, requiring them to make an eye movement to an orientation-defined target, while ignoring a color-defined distractor. The salience of the distractor was varied (five levels), permitting the percentage of target and distractor fixations to be analyzed as a function of the salience difference between the target and distractor. This analysis revealed the same pattern of results for both the overall and the short-latency saccades: When the target and distractor were of comparable salience, the vast majority of saccades went directly to the target; even distractors somewhat more salient than the target led to significantly fewer distractor, as compared with target, fixations. To quantify the amount of top-down control applied, we estimated the point of equal selection probability for the target and distractor. Analyses of these estimates revealed that, to be selected with equal probability to the target, a distractor had to have a considerably greater bottom-up salience, as compared with the target. This difference suggests a strong contribution of top-down control to saccadic target selection-even for the earliest saccades.

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