Humans use rapid eye movements (saccades) to inspect stimuli with the foveola, the region of the retina where receptors are most densely packed. It is well established that visual sensitivity is generally attenuated during these movements, a phenomenon known as saccadic suppression. This effect is commonly studied with large, often peripheral, stimuli presented during instructed saccades. However, little is known about how saccades modulate the foveola and how the resulting dynamics unfold during natural visual exploration. Here we measured the foveal dynamics of saccadic suppression in a naturalistic high-acuity task, a task designed after primate’s social grooming, which—like most explorations of fine patterns—primarily elicits minute saccades (microsaccades). Leveraging on recent advances in gaze-contingent display control, we were able to systematically map the peri-saccadic time-course of sensitivity across the foveola. We show that contrast sensitivity is not uniform across this region and that both the extent and dynamics of saccadic suppression vary within the foveola. Suppression is stronger and faster in the most central portion, where sensitivity is generally higher and selectively rebounds at the onset of a new fixation. These results shed new light on the modulations experienced by foveal vision during the saccade-fixation cycle and explain some of the benefits of microsaccades.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience