Natural image and receptive field statistics predict saccade sizes


Humans and other primates sample the visual environment using saccadic eye movements that shift a high-resolution fovea toward regions of interest to create a clear perception of a scene across fixations. Many mammals, however, like mice, lack a fovea, which raises the question of why they make saccades. Here we describe and test the hypothesis that saccades are matched to natural scene statistics and to the receptive field sizes and adaptive properties of neural populations. Specifically, we determined the minimum amplitude of saccades in natural scenes necessary to provide uncorrelated inputs to model neural populations. This analysis predicts the distributions of observed saccade sizes during passive viewing for nonhuman primates, cats, and mice. Furthermore, disrupting the development of receptive field properties by monocular deprivation changed saccade sizes consistent with this hypothesis. Therefore, natural-scene statistics and the neural representation of natural images appear to be critical factors guiding saccadic eye movements.

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Fig. 1: Saccade size and frequency increase with increasing image size.
Fig. 2: Saccades increase the average response of cells with adaptive changes in gain.
Fig. 3: Measuring decorrelation distance in natural images.
Fig. 4: Decorrelation distance and RF size predict saccade size.
Fig. 5: Selectivity and tolerance decrease and increase saccade sizes necessary for decorrelation, respectively.
Fig. 6: Decreasing acuity with MD increases saccade sizes.


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We thank A. Laudano, V. Choi, and D. Greer for technical assistance, as well as M. Smith, A. Kohn, and A. Huk for helpful discussions. We are grateful to H.-H. Yu and M. Rosa for sharing marmoset RF data. We thank S. Lisberger and M. Hayhoe for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. This work was supported by National Health Institutes Grants U01NS094330, EY019288, and EY024662, and by a Human Frontier Science Program Grant.

Author information

J.M.S., W.S.G., and N.J.P. conceived and designed the studies. J.M.S. performed experiments. J.M.S., W.S.G., and N.J.P. analyzed data. J.M.S. wrote the manuscript with contributions from W.S.G. and N.J.P.

Correspondence to Jason M. Samonds.

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Integrated supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1 Experimental setup.

(a), Natural images were displayed to mice running on a floating Styrofoam ball, while we tracked eye position with infrared cameras and running speed with an optical mouse. (b), Saccades were detected when velocity exceeded an initial threshold (red dashed line), and the beginning (green circle) and end (red circle) of saccades were determined as when the velocity fell below a second threshold in opposite directions (green dashed line).

Supplementary Figure 2 Examples of decorrelation distances vs. RF size estimated for individual images using V1 complex cells.

These are representative examples from a sample of n = 392 natural images. The measured distances are plotted along with a fit based on equation 17 in Online Methods.

Supplementary Figure 3

Entire raw probability distribution of decorrelation distances for n = 392 images for all RF sizes from Fig. 4a.

Supplementary Figure 4 Receptive field size and cortical magnification vs. eccentricity.

(a), RF size (square root of area) versus eccentricity replotted from previous studies (see legend) for macaques (n = 248 RF sizes23), marmosets (n = 597 RF sizes58), and cats (n = 643 RF sizes for individual data points59; mean and standard error for n = 178 RF sizes grouped by eccentricity60). All fits are based on the same function used in Van Essen et al.23 (b), Cortical magnification versus eccentricity replotted from previous studies (see legend). The large plot only shows the fits and the first 10° of eccentricity with linear axes to emphasize the severity of the fall-off. The inset shows all of the data (n = 82 cortical magnification estimates for cats5961). The fit for cat data was based on the same function used in Chaplin et al.58 (see Online Methods for details).

Supplementary Figure 5 More examples of changes in predicted saccade sizes as a result of RF selectivity changing.

(a), Predicted median saccade sizes are smaller for RFs with a suppressive surround compared to RFs that only have divisive normalization within the classical RF. *Extrapolated surround suppression prediction for the mouse. (b), Predicted median saccade sizes are larger for RFs that detect cardinal orientations compared to RFs that detect oblique orientations. For (a and b), vertical and horizontal lines in the circles represent 95% confidence intervals of the median (n = 392 images).

Supplementary Figure 6 The effect of decorrelation threshold on predicted saccade sizes.

(a), Median decorrelation distances decrease for increasing decorrelation thresholds (n = 392 images). (b), Predicted median saccade sizes correspondingly decrease with increasing decorrelation thresholds. Decreasing intensity in colour corresponds to different thresholds defined by the decreasing intensity of black in (a). Vertical lines in the circles represent 95% confidence intervals of the median (n = 392 images). Dashed versus solid lines represents different sets of data (see Online Methods for details).

Supplementary Figure 7 MD consistently shifts the OKR spatial frequency curve to lower spatial frequencies for the deprived eye.

(a), Normalized (by the peak) OKR gain versus spatial frequency data points for all four MD mice. b, OKR gain versus spatial frequency was similar between left and right eyes for three control mice and similar to the non-deprived eye of MD mice. For (a and b), data points are medians and error bars are 95% confidence intervals of the median (n = 20 repeats for all mice).

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Supplementary Figures 1–7

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Example of mouse eye tracking and saccade detection. Circles represent detected saccades.

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