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Keywords:

  • covert attention;
  • fixational eye movements;
  • microsaccades;
  • perception;
  • saccades;
  • voluntary eye movement

Abstract

Microsaccades are small eye movements that occur during gaze fixation. Although taking place only when we attempt to stabilize gaze position, microsaccades can be understood by relating them to the larger voluntary saccades, which abruptly shift gaze position. Starting from this approach to microsaccade analysis, I show how it can lead to significant insight about the generation and functional role of these eye movements. Like larger saccades, microsaccades are now known to be generated by brainstem structures involved not only in compiling motor commands for eye movements, but also in identifying and selecting salient target locations in the visual environment. In addition, these small eye movements both influence and are influenced by sensory and cognitive processes in various areas of the brain, and in a manner that is similar to the interactions between larger saccades and sensory or cognitive processes. By approaching the study of microsaccades from the perspective of what has been learned about their larger counterparts, we are now in a position to make greater strides in our understanding of the function of the smallest possible saccadic eye movements.