Visuo-spatial attentional orienting is fundamental to selectively process behaviorally relevant information, depending on both low-level visual attributes of stimuli in the environment and higher-level factors, such as goals, expectations and prior knowledge. Growing evidence suggests an impact of the locus-coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system in attentional orienting that depends on task-context. Nonetheless, most of previous studies used visual displays encompassing a target and various distractors, often preceded by cues to orient the attentional focus. This emphasizes the contribution of goal-driven processes, at the expense of other factors related to the stimulus content. Here, we aimed to determine the impact of NE on attentional orienting in more naturalistic conditions, using complex images and without any explicit task manipulation. We tested the effects of atomoxetine (ATX) injections, a NE reuptake inhibitor, on four monkeys during free viewing of images belonging to three categories: landscapes, monkey faces and scrambled images. Analyses of the gaze exploration patterns revealed, first, that the monkeys spent more time on each fixation under ATX compared to the control condition, regardless of the image content. Second, we found that, depending on the image content, ATX modulated the impact of low-level visual salience on attentional orienting. This effect correlated with the effect of ATX on the number and duration of fixations. Taken together, our results demonstrate that ATX adjusts the contribution of salience on attentional orienting depending on the image content, indicative of its role in balancing the role of stimulus-driven and top-down control during free viewing of complex stimuli.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience