Smooth pursuit tracking of an abrupt change in target direction: Vector superposition of discrete responses

John F. Soechting, Leigh A. Mrotek, Martha Flanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The directional control of smooth pursuit eye movements was studied by presenting human subjects with targets that moved in a straight line at a constant speed and then changed direction abruptly and unpredictably. To minimize the probability of saccadic responses in the interval following the target's change in direction, target position was offset so as to eliminate position error after the reaction time. Smooth pursuit speed declined at a latency of 90 ms, whereas the direction of smooth pursuit began to change later (130 ms). The amplitude of the offset in target position did not affect the subsequent smooth pursuit response. In other experiments, the target's speed or acceleration was changed abruptly at the time of the change in direction. Step changes in speed elicited short-latency responses in smooth pursuit tracking but step changes in acceleration did not. In all instances, the earliest component of the response did not depend on the parameters of the stimulus. The data were fit with a model in which smooth pursuit resulted from the vector addition of two components, one representing a response to the arrest of the initial target motion and the other the response to the onset of target motion in the new direction. This model gave an excellent fit but further analysis revealed nonlinear interactions between the two vector components. These interactions represented directional anisotropies both in terms of the initial tracking direction (which was either vertical or 45°) and in terms of the cardinal directions (vertical and horizontal).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-258
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This work was supported by NIH Grant EY-13704. We thank Dr. S.G. Lisberger for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and Ms. Obianuju Obi for her contributions to preliminary experiments.


  • Eye movements
  • Human subjects
  • Target acceleration
  • Target velocity


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