Conventional decision models, based on the saccadic system as a sensorimotor model, typically view reaction time as a byproduct of decisional processes, reflecting the time needed to make a decision. However, research has shown that saccadic latencies are twice as long as the decision time and that the organization of the environment affects saccade latencies. This thesis dissertation provides an alternative view of saccadic reaction times (SRTs) by showing that saccade latency distribution can be altered by their own consequences. We defend that saccadic latency depends on functional relations with its environment.
This thesis conducted a functional analysis of saccadic latencies. The first study probed whether it is possible to choose one’s latencies depending on the reinforcement contingencies in force, in order to assess the extent of temporal control with saccades. The allocation of short and long latencies matched the relative reinforcement obtained, demonstrating a fine control of SRTs. The second study further investigated the effect of beneficial consequences on SRTs, using the size-latency phenomenon. The reinforcement procedure was effective in manipulating the benefit of shorter SRTs and reducing the size- latency phenomenon. The third experiment demonstrated how antecedent stimuli come to control specific reaction times through operant learning. Reinforcement contingencies induced discriminative control of latencies between different stimuli. Finally, the last experiment explored the involvement of classical learning processes in stimulus control of saccade latencies. This pilot study highlighted the influence of the environment and learning history in the temporal control of saccades.
Our results emphasize the exquisite plasticity of the saccadic system, and extend it to the temporal control of saccades. This thesis shows that a general learning process, based on the functional consequences of saccades, can parsimoniously explain changes in saccadic latency. Demonstrating that latency is an operant dimension of saccades, the organization of the environment controls the temporal organization of saccades.