Saccadic suppression precedes visual motion analysis

Curr Biol. 1999 Oct 21;9(20):1207-9. doi: 10.1016/S0960-9822(00)80028-7.


There is now good evidence that perception of motion is strongly suppressed during saccades (rapid shifts of gaze), presumably to blunt the disturbing sense of motion that saccades would otherwise elicit. Other aspects of vision, such as contrast detection of high-frequency or equiluminant gratings, are virtually unaffected by saccades [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]. This has led to the suggestion that saccades may suppress selectively the magnocellular pathway (which is strongly implicated in motion perception), leaving the parvocellular pathway unaffected [5] [6]. Here, we investigate the neural level at which perception of motion is suppressed. We used a simple technique in which an impression of motion is generated from only two frames, allowing precise control over the stimulus [7] [8]. One frame has a certain fixed contrast, whereas the contrast of the other (the test frame) is varied to determine the threshold for motion discrimination (that is, the lowest test-frame contrast level at which the direction of motion can be correctly guessed). Contrast thresholds of the test depended strongly and non-monotonically on the contrast of the fixed-contrast frame, with a minimum at medium contrast. To study the effect of saccadic suppression, we triggered the two-frame sequence by a voluntary saccade. Thresholds during saccades increased in a way that suggested that saccadic suppression precedes motion analysis: when the test frame was first in the motion sequence there was a general depression of sensitivity, whereas when it was second, the contrast response curve was shifted to a higher contrast range, sometimes even resulting in higher sensitivity than without a saccade. The dependence on presentation order suggests that saccadic suppression occurs at an early stage of visual processing, on the single frames themselves rather than on the combined motion signal. As motion detection itself is thought to occur at an early stage, saccadic suppression must take place at a very early phenomenon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology