Relatively little is known about visual processing during free-viewing visual search in realistic dynamic environments. Free-viewing is characterized by frequent saccades. During saccades, visual processing is thought to be inhibited, yet we know that the pre-saccadic visual content can modulate post-saccadic processing. To better understand these processes in a realistic setting, we study here saccades and neural responses elicited by the appearance of visual targets in a realistic virtual environment. While subjects were being driven through a 3D virtual town they were asked to discriminate between targets that appear on the road. We found that the presence of a target enhances early occipital as well as late frontocentral saccade-related responses. The earlier potential, shortly after 125ms post-saccade onset, was enhanced for targets that appeared in peripheral vision as compared to central vision, suggesting that fast peripheral processing initiated before saccade onset. The later potential, at 195ms post-saccade onset, was strongly modulated by the visibility of the target with a spatial distribution reminiscent of the classic P300 response. Together these results suggest that, during natural viewing, neural processing of the pre-saccadic visual stimulus continues throughout the saccade, apparently unencumbered by saccadic inhibition.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience