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Neuronal Mechanisms of Distracted Driving

We presented naturalistic combinations of virtual self-movement stimuli while recording neuronal activity in monkey cerebral cortex. The monkeys used a joystick to steer their simulated heading direction guided by either object motion or optic flow. The selected cue dominates neuronal responses, obliterating responses to the other cue or creating cue selective response additivities. Independently moving objects impede the monkeys’ steering and disrupt cue selective neuronal responses. The neuronal population’s responses are transformed by steering dependent cue selectivity and show the same sensitivity to independently moving objects that distract healthy observers and disrupt heading estimation in Alzheimer’s patients with navigational deficits.

The monkey maintained central fixation on the open circle while steering to maintain a visually centered heading in a continuous steering task using optic flow and/or object motion. Three-minute blocks of trials began with either optic flow or object motion alone, cueing the monkey to use that cue throughout that block of trials. In each trial the simulated heading is randomly deviated to the left by imposing a +/-10o/s drift velocity in that direction. The monkey steers to center the heading to earn liquid reward. The optic flow and object motion are then superimposed such that the movements are congruent shown here by the padlock. In other blocks of trials, the optic flow and object motion are non-congruent and the non-selected stimulus is a distracter.

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