Discriminating between anticipatory and visually triggered saccades: measuring minimal visual saccadic response time using luminance

Jessica Heeman, Stefan Van der Stigchel, Douglas P. Munoz, Jan Theeuwes

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We describe a novel behavioral method to accurately discriminate anticipatory (i.e., saccades not generated by visual input) from visually triggered saccades and to identify the minimal visual saccadic reaction time (SRT). This method can be used to calculate a feasible lower bound cutoff for latencies of visually triggered saccades within a certain experimental context or participant group. We apply this method to compute the minimal visual SRT for two different saccade target luminance levels. Three main findings are presented: 1) the minimal visual SRT for all participants was 46 ms shorter for bright targets than for dim targets, 2) the transition from non-visually triggered to visually triggered saccades occurred abruptly, independent of target luminance, and 3) although the absolute minimal visual SRTs varied between participants, the response pattern (response to bright targets being faster than to dim targets) was consistent across participants. These results are consistent with variability in saccadic and neural responses to luminance as has been reported in monkeys. On the basis of these results, we argue that differences in the minimal visual SRT can easily occur when stimuli vary in luminance or other saliency features. Applying an absolute cutoff (i.e., 70-90 ms) that approaches the minimal neuronal conduction delays, which is general practice in many laboratories, may result in the wrongful inclusion of saccades that are not visually triggered. It is suggested to assess the lower SRT bound for visually triggered saccades when piloting an experimental setup and before including saccades based on particular latency criteria. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We successfully developed an anticipation paradigm to discriminate between anticipatory and visually triggered saccades by measuring the minimal visual saccadic response time (SRT). We show that the 70- to 90-ms lower bound cutoff for visually triggered saccades should be applied in a flexible way and that the transitional interval is very short. The paradigm can be employed to investigate the effects of different stimulus features, experimental conditions, and participant groups on the minimal visual SRT in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2101-2111
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • anticipatory saccade
  • latency
  • luminance
  • visual processing time
  • visually triggered saccade


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