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Abstract

Saccades are fast eye movements that reorient gaze. They can be performed voluntarily—for example, when viewing a scene—but they can also be triggered in reaction to suddenly appearing targets. The generation of these voluntary and reactive saccades have been shown to involve partially different cortical pathways. However, saccades of either type confront the visual system with a major challenge from massive image motion on the retina. Despite the fact that the whole scene is swept across the retina, a saccade usually does not elicit a percept of motion. This saccadic omission has been linked to a transient decrease of visual sensitivity during the eye movement, a phenomenon called saccadic suppression. A passive origin of saccadic suppression based on temporal masking has been proposed as well as an active central process that inhibits visual processing during the saccade. The latter one would need to include an extraretinal signal, which is generated already during saccade preparation. Since saccade generation differs for voluntary and reactive saccades, timing and nature of this extraretinal signal as well as its impact on visual sensitivity might also differ. We measured detection thresholds for luminance stimuli that were flashed during voluntary and reactive saccades and during fixation. Detection thresholds were higher during voluntary than during reactive saccades such that suppression appeared stronger during voluntary saccades. Stronger suppression in voluntary saccades could arise from a stronger extraretinal signal that activates suppression or could indicate that a suppression underlying process itself partially differs between voluntary and reactive saccades.

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