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J Vis. 2014 Mar 24;14(3):28. doi: 10.1167/14.3.28.

Modularity in the motion system: independent oculomotor and perceptual processing of brief moving stimuli.

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Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester.


In addition to motion perception per se, we utilize motion information for a wide range of brain functions. These varied functions place different demands on the visual system, and therefore a stimulus that provides useful information for one function may be inadequate for another. For example, the direction of motion of large high-contrast stimuli is difficult to discriminate perceptually, but other studies have shown that such stimuli are highly effective at eliciting directional oculomotor responses such as the ocular following response (OFR). Here, we investigated the degree of independence between perceptual and oculomotor processing by determining whether perceptually suppressed moving stimuli can nonetheless evoke reliable eye movements. We measured reflexively evoked tracking eye movements while observers discriminated the motion direction of large high-contrast stimuli. To quantify the discrimination ability of the oculomotor system, we used signal detection theory to generate associated oculometric functions. The results showed that oculomotor sensitivity to motion direction is not predicted by perceptual sensitivity to the same stimuli. In fact, in several cases oculomotor responses were more reliable than perceptual responses. Moreover, a trial-by-trial analysis indicated that, for stimuli tested in this study, oculomotor processing was statistically independent from perceptual processing. Evidently, perceptual and oculomotor responses reflect the activity of independent dissociable mechanisms despite operating on the same input. While results of this kind have traditionally been interpreted in the framework of perception versus action, we propose that these differences reflect a more general principle of modularity.


eye movements; motion perception; ocular following response; spatial suppression

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