Decisions in motion: Vestibular contributions to saccadic target selection

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Journal of Neurophysiology





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The natural world continuously presents us with many opportunities for action, and thus a process of target selection must precede action execution. While there has been considerable progress in understanding target selection in stationary environments, little is known about target selection when we are in motion. Here we investigated the effect of self-motion signals on saccadic target selection in a dynamic environment. Human subjects were sinusoidally translated (f = 0.6 Hz, 30-cm peak-to-peak displacement) along an interaural axis with a vestibular sled. During the motion two visual targets were presented asynchronously but equidistantly on either side of fixation. Subjects had to look at one of these targets as quickly as possible. With an adaptive approach, the time delay between these targets was adjusted until the subject selected both targets equally often. We determined this balanced time delay for different phases of the motion in order to distinguish the effects of body acceleration and velocity on saccadic target selection. Results show that acceleration (or position, as these are indistinguishable during sinusoidal motion), but not velocity, affects target selection for saccades. Subjects preferred to look at targets in the direction of the acceleration-the leftward target was preferred when the sled accelerated to the left, and vice versa. Saccadic reaction times mimicked this selection bias by being reliably shorter to targets in the direction of acceleration. Our results provide evidence that saccade target selection mechanisms are modulated by self-motion signals, which could be derived directly from the otolith system.