Active sensing and overt avoidance: Gaze shifts as a mechanism of predictive avoidance in vision

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Sensory organs are not only involved in passively transmitting sensory input, but are also involved in actively seeking it. Some sensory organs move dynamically to allow highly prioritized input to be detected by their most sensitive parts. Such ‘active sensing’ systems engage in pursuing relevant input, relying on attentional prioritizations. However, pursuing input may not always be advantageous. Task-irrelevant input may be distracting and interfere with task performance. We hypothesize that an efficient ‘active sensing’ mechanism should be able to not only pursue relevant input but also to predict irrelevant input and avoid it. Moreover, we hypothesize that this mechanism should be evident even when the task is non-visual and all visual information acts as a distractor. In this study, we demonstrate the existence of a predictive ‘overt avoidance’ mechanism in vision. In two experiments, participants were asked to perform a continuous mental-arithmetic task while occasionally being presented with task-irrelevant crowded displays limited to one quadrant of a screen. The locations of these visual stimuli were constant within a block but varied between blocks. Results show that gaze was consistently shifted away from the predicted location of distraction, even prior to its appearance, confirming the existence of a predictive ‘overt avoidance’ mechanism in vision. Based on these findings, we propose a conceptual model to explain how an ‘active sensing’ system, hardwired to explore, can overcome this drive when presented with distracting information. According to the model, distraction is handled through a dual mechanism of suppression and avoidance processes that are causally linked. This framework demonstrates how perception and motion work together to approach relevant information while avoiding irrelevant distraction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104648
JournalCognition
Volume211
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Active sensing
  • Distraction avoidance
  • Eye movements
  • Gaze aversion
  • Overt avoidance

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Active sensing and overt avoidance: Gaze shifts as a mechanism of predictive avoidance in vision'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this