Intelligent, goal-directed behavior depends on orienting the eyes efficiently to task-relevant objects in the world. In previous work, we have demonstrated that the visual working memory (VWM) system exerts top-down control over saccade target selection, guiding the eyes to goal-relevant objects. Before a saccade, features of the saccade target are encoded into VWM. These are retained across the saccade and compared with object information when the eyes land. In the common circumstance that the eyes fail to land on the original target, remembered properties of the target are used to guide attention and gaze, automatically, toward a matching object, ensuring that the eyes are directed efficiently to the original target. This specific behavior reflects a general interactive relationship between saccade target selection and VWM: Selection of the saccade target object controls encoding into VWM, and the content of VWM, in turn, biases saccade target selection in favor of objects that match the features stored in memory. In the present project, we propose to explore the locus of the interaction between VWM and saccade target selection. We will test the hypothesis that VWM activation influences low-level sensory processing of saccade targets, influencing even the most rapid and elementary forms of saccadic orienting. In addition, we propose to examine core processing components of the interaction between VWM and gaze control, including 1) the ability to adapt VWM content and attentional biases on the basis of changing task demands and 2) the mechanisms by which saccade target properties are encoded in VWM. Finally, we will develop a neural field model that integrates current models eye movement planning and models of VWM, providing a formal framework for understanding their relationship. These studies will advance our understanding of the basic mechanisms of gaze control that support efficient interaction with objects and agents in the world.
Everyday human behavior requires efficiently directing the eyes to objects that are relevant to the task at hand. The present project aims to provide a clearer understanding of the mechanisms by which working memory systems interact with the control of saccadic eye movements to guide the eyes toward pertinent objects. Understanding the low-level mechanisms by which visual working memory modulates the selection of saccade targets has the potential to inform not only research on eye movements but also basic research on working memory, attention, and visual search.
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