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J Neurophysiol. 2003 Oct;90(4):2205-18. Epub 2003 Jun 18.

Evidence for object permanence in the smooth-pursuit eye movements of monkeys.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, San Francisco, California 94143, USA.


We recorded the smooth-pursuit eye movements of monkeys in response to targets that were extinguished (blinked) for 200 ms in mid-trajectory. Eye velocity declined considerably during the target blinks, even when the blinks were completely predictable in time and space. Eye velocity declined whether blinks were presented during steady-state pursuit of a constant-velocity target, during initiation of pursuit before target velocity was reached, or during eye accelerations induced by a change in target velocity. When a physical occluder covered the trajectory of the target during blinks, creating the impression that the target moved behind it, the decline in eye velocity was reduced or abolished. If the target was occluded once the eye had reached target velocity, pursuit was only slightly poorer than normal, uninterrupted pursuit. In contrast, if the target was occluded during the initiation of pursuit, while the eye was accelerating toward target velocity, pursuit during occlusion was very different from normal pursuit. Eye velocity remained relatively stable during target occlusion, showing much less acceleration than normal pursuit and much less of a decline than was produced by a target blink. Anticipatory or predictive eye acceleration was typically observed just prior to the reappearance of the target. Computer simulations show that these results are best understood by assuming that a mechanism of eye-velocity memory remains engaged during target occlusion but is disengaged during target blinks.

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