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Keywords:

  • Macaca mulatta;
  • optic tectum;
  • saccade goal selection;
  • saccade programming;
  • saccade target selection;
  • visual attention

Abstract

We review here both the evidence that the functional visuomotor organization of the optic tectum is conserved in the primate superior colliculus (SC) and the evidence for the linking proposition that SC discriminating activity instantiates saccade target selection. We also present new data in response to questions that arose from recent SC visual search studies. First, we observed that SC discriminating activity predicts saccade initiation when monkeys perform an unconstrained search for a target defined by either a single visual feature or a conjunction of two features. Quantitative differences between the results in these two search tasks suggest, however, that SC discriminating activity does not only reflect saccade programming. This finding concurs with visual search studies conducted in posterior parietal cortex and the idea that, during natural active vision, visual attention is shifted concomitantly with saccade programming. Second, the analysis of a large neuronal sample recorded during feature search revealed that visual neurons in the superficial layers do possess discriminating activity. In addition, the hypotheses that there are distinct types of SC neurons in the deeper layers and that they are differently involved in saccade target selection were not substantiated. Third, we found that the discriminating quality of single-neuron activity substantially surpasses the ability of the monkeys to discriminate the target from distracters, raising the possibility that saccade target selection is a noisy process. We discuss these new findings in light of the visual search literature and the view that the SC is a visual salience map for orienting eye movements.