We presented optic flow and real movement heading stimuli while recording MSTd neuronal activity. Monkeys were alternately engaged in three tasks: visual detection of optic flow heading perturbations, vestibular detection of real movement heading perturbations, and auditory detection of brief tones. Push-button RTs were fastest for tones and slower for visual and vestibular heading perturbations, suggesting that the tone detection task was easier. Neuronal heading selectivity was strongest during the tone detection task, and weaker during the visual and vestibular heading perturbation detection tasks. Heading selectivity was weaker during visual and vestibular path perturbation detection, despite our presented heading cues only in the visual and vestibular modalities. We conclude that focusing on the self-movement transients of path perturbation distracted the monkeys from their heading and reduced neuronal responsiveness to heading direction. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Heading analysis is critical for steering and navigation. We recorded the activity of monkey cortical heading neurons during naturalistic self-movement. When the monkeys were required to respond to transient changes in their path, neuronal responses to heading direction were diminished. This suggests that the need to respond to momentary path perturbations reduces your ability to process your heading direction.
Keywords: attention; cortex; extrastriate; optic flow; visual motion.