Microsaccadic rate and pupil size dynamics in pro-/anti-saccade preparation: the impact of intermixed vs. blocked trial administration

  • Mario DalmasoEmail author
  • Luigi Castelli
  • Giovanni Galfano
Original Article


Prolonged fixation can lead to the generation of tiny and fast eye movements called microsaccades, whose dynamics can be associated with higher cognitive mechanisms. Saccade preparation is also reflected in microsaccadic activity, but the few studies on this topic provided mixed results. For instance, fewer microsaccades have been observed when participants were asked to prepare for an anti-saccade (i.e., a saccade in the opposite direction to the target) as compared to a pro-saccade (i.e., a saccade executed towards a target), but null results have also been reported. In the attempt to shed new light on this topic, two experiments were carried out in which the context of presentation of pro- and anti-saccade trials was manipulated. Pupil size was also recorded, as a further index of cognitive load. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to prepare and perform pro- and anti-saccades in response to a peripheral target, according to a central instruction cue provided at the beginning of each trial (intermixed condition). In Experiment 2, the same task was employed, but pro- and anti-saccade trials were delivered in two distinct blocks (blocked condition). In both experiments, greater saccadic latencies and lower accuracy emerged for anti- than for pro-saccades. However, in the intermixed condition, a lower microsaccadic rate and a greater pupil size emerged when participants prepared for anti- rather than pro-saccades, whereas these differences disappeared in the blocked condition. These results suggest that contextual factors may play a key role in shaping oculomotor dynamics linked to saccade preparation.



This work was funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, University, and Research (Futuro in Ricerca 2012, Grant number RBFR12F0BD to Giovanni Galfano) and by the University of Padova (Bando Giovani Ricercatori 2015 “Assegno Senior”, Grant number GRIC15QDDH to Mario Dalmaso). The authors are grateful to Ralf Engbert for his valuable suggestions on data analysis, to Daniela Toffoletto for her help during data collection, and to two anonymous reviewers for their advice and constructive criticisms on a previous version of the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the studies.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Developmental and Social PsychologyUniversity of PadovaPaduaItaly

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