Using aversive conditioning with near-real-time feedback to shape eye movements during naturalistic viewing.
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Strategically shaping patterns of eye movements through training has manifold promising applications, with the potential to improve the speed and efficiency of visual search, improve the ability of humans to extract information from complex displays, and help correct disordered eye movement patterns. However, training how a person moves their eyes when viewing an image or scene is notoriously difficult, with typical approaches relying on explicit instruction and strategy, which have notable limitations. The present study introduces a novel approach to eye movement training using aversive conditioning with near-real-time feedback. Participants viewed indoor scenes (eight scenes presented over 48 trials) with the goal of remembering those scenes for a later memory test. During viewing, saccades meeting specific amplitude and direction criteria probabilistically triggered an aversive electric shock, which was felt within 50 ms after the eliciting eye movement, allowing for a close temporal coupling between an oculomotor behavior and the feedback intended to shape it. Results demonstrate a bias against performing an initial saccade in the direction paired with shock (Experiment 1) or generally of the amplitude paired with shock (Experiment 2), an effect that operates without apparent awareness of the relationship between shocks and saccades, persists into extinction, and generalizes to the viewing of novel images. The present study serves as a proof of concept concerning the implementation of near-real-time feedback in eye movement training.
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