When confronted with a complex moving stimulus, the brain can integrate local element velocities to obtain a single motion signal, or segregate the elements to maintain awareness of their identities. The integrated motion signal can drive smooth-pursuit eye movements (Heinen and Watamaniuk, 1998), whereas the segregated signal guides attentive tracking of individual elements in multiple-object tracking tasks (MOT; Pylyshyn and Storm, 1988). It is evident that these processes can occur simultaneously, because we can effortlessly pursue ambulating creatures while inspecting disjoint moving features, such as arms and legs, but the underlying mechanism is unknown. Here, we provide evidence that separate neural circuits perform the mathematically opposed operations of integration and segregation, by demonstrating with a dual-task paradigm that the two processes do not share attentional resources. Human observers attentively tracked a subset of target elements composing a small MOT stimulus, while pursuing it ocularly as it translated across a computer display. Integration of the multidot stimulus yielded optimal pursuit. Importantly, performing MOT while pursuing the stimulus did not degrade performance on either task compared with when each was performed alone, indicating that they did not share attention. A control experiment showed that pursuit was not driven by integration of only the nontargets, leaving the MOT targets free for segregation. Nor was a predictive strategy used to pursue the stimulus, because sudden changes in its global velocity were accurately followed. The results suggest that separate neural mechanisms can simultaneously segregate and integrate the same motion signals.
Watamaniuk, S. N.,
Khan, A. Z.,
& Potapuchuk, E.
(2014). Motion Integration for Ocular Pursuit Does Not Hinder Perceptual Segregation of Moving Objects. Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (17), 5835-5841.