Decision-related perturbations of decision-irrelevant eye movements

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Feb 16;113(7):1925-30. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520309113. Epub 2016 Feb 1.


It is well established that ongoing cognitive functions affect the trajectories of limb movements mediated by corticospinal circuits, suggesting an interaction between cognition and motor action. Although there are also many demonstrations that decision formation is reflected in the ongoing neural activity in oculomotor brain circuits, it is not known whether the decision-related activity in those oculomotor structures interacts with eye movements that are decision irrelevant. Here we tested for an interaction between decisions and instructed saccades unrelated to the perceptual decision. Observers performed a direction-discrimination decision-making task, but made decision-irrelevant saccades before registering their motion decision with a button press. Probing the oculomotor circuits with these decision-irrelevant saccades during decision making revealed that saccade reaction times and peak velocities were influenced in proportion to motion strength, and depended on the directional congruence between decisions about visual motion and decision-irrelevant saccades. These interactions disappeared when observers passively viewed the motion stimulus but still made the same instructed saccades, and when manual reaction times were measured instead of saccade reaction times, confirming that these interactions result from decision formation as opposed to visual stimulation, and are specific to the oculomotor system. Our results demonstrate that oculomotor function can be affected by decision formation, even when decisions are communicated without eye movements, and that this interaction has a directionally specific component. These results not only imply a continuous and interactive mixture of motor and decision signals in oculomotor structures, but also suggest nonmotor recruitment of oculomotor machinery in decision making.

Keywords: decision making; eye movement; visual motion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Eye Movements*
  • Humans