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Abstract

Historically, the study of visual perception has followed a reductionist strategy, with the goal of understanding complex visually guided behavior by separate analysis of its elemental components. Recent developments in monitoring behavior, such as measurement of eye movements in unconstrained observers, have allowed investigation of the use of vision in the natural world. This has led to a variety of insights that would be difficult to achieve in more constrained experimental contexts. In general, it shifts the focus of vision away from the properties of the stimulus toward a consideration of the behavioral goals of the observer. It appears that behavioral goals are a critical factor in controlling the acquisition of visual information from the world. This insight has been accompanied by a growing understanding of the importance of reward in modulating the underlying neural mechanisms and by theoretical developments using reinforcement learning models of complex behavior. These developments provide us with the tools to understanding how tasks are represented in the brain, and how they control acquisition of information through use of gaze. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 158–166 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.113

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