Modification of saccadic gain by reinforcement

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jul;106(1):219-32. doi: 10.1152/jn.01094.2009. Epub 2011 Apr 27.


Control of saccadic gain is often viewed as a simple compensatory process in which gain is adjusted over many trials by the postsaccadic retinal error, thereby maintaining saccadic accuracy. Here, we propose that gain might also be changed by a reinforcement process not requiring a visual error. To test this hypothesis, we used experimental paradigms in which retinal error was removed by extinguishing the target at the start of each saccade and either an auditory tone or the vision of the target on the fovea was provided as reinforcement after those saccades that met an amplitude criterion. These reinforcement procedures caused a progressive change in saccade amplitude in nearly all subjects, although the rate of adaptation differed greatly among subjects. When we reversed the contingencies and reinforced those saccades landing closer to the original target location, saccade gain changed back toward normal gain in most subjects. When subjects had saccades adapted first by reinforcement and a week later by conventional intrasaccadic step adaptation, both paradigms yielded similar degrees of gain changes and similar transfer to new amplitudes and to new starting positions of the target step as well as comparable rates of recovery. We interpret these changes in saccadic gain in the absence of postsaccadic retinal error as showing that saccade adaptation is not controlled by a single error signal. More generally, our findings suggest that normal saccade adaptation might involve general learning mechanisms rather than only specialized mechanisms for motor calibration.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Saccades / physiology*