Following Forrest Gump: Smooth pursuit related brain activation during free movie viewing

Ioannis Agtzidis*, Inga Meyhöfer, Michael Dorr, Rebekka Lencer

*Corresponding author for this work


Most fMRI studies investigating smooth pursuit (SP) related brain activity have used simple synthetic stimuli such as a sinusoidally moving dot. However, real-life situations are much more complex and SP does not occur in isolation but within sequences of saccades and fixations. This raises the question whether the same brain networks for SP that have been identified under laboratory conditions are activated when following moving objects in a movie. Here, we used the publicly available studyforrest data set that provides eye movement recordings along with 3 ​T fMRI recordings from 15 subjects while watching the Hollywood movie “Forrest Gump”. All three major eye movement events, namely fixations, saccades, and smooth pursuit, were detected with a state-of-the-art algorithm. In our analysis, smooth pursuit (SP) was the eye movement of interest, while saccades were acting as the steady state of viewing behaviour due to their lower variability. For the fMRI analysis we used an event-related design modelling saccades and SP as regressors initially. Because of the interdependency of SP and content motion, we then added a new low-level content motion regressor to separate brain activations from these two sources. We identified higher BOLD-responses during SP than saccades bilaterally in MT+/V5, in middle cingulate extending to precuneus, and in the right temporoparietal junction. When the motion regressor was added, SP showed higher BOLD-response relative to saccades bilaterally in the cortex lining the superior temporal sulcus, precuneus, and supplementary eye field, presumably due to a confounding effect of background motion. Only parts of V2 showed higher activation during saccades in comparison to SP. Taken together, our approach should be regarded as proof of principle for deciphering brain activity related to SP, which is one of the most prominent eye movements besides saccades, in complex dynamic naturalistic situations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116491
Publication statusPublished - 01.08.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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