Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
It is usually held that perceptual spatial stability, despite smooth pursuit eye movements, is accomplished by comparing a signal reflecting retinal image slip with an internal reference signal, encoding the eye movement. The important consequence of this concept is that our subjective percept of visual motion reflects the outcome of this comparison rather than retinal image slip. In an attempt to localize the cortical networks underlying this comparison and therefore our subjective percept of visual motion, we exploited an imperfection inherent in it, which results in a movement illusion. If smooth pursuit is carried out across a stationary background, we perceive a tiny degree of illusionary background motion (Filehne illusion, or FI), rather than experiencing the ecologically optimal percept of stationarity. We have recently shown that this illusion can be modified substantially and predictably under laboratory conditions by visual motion unrelated to the eye movement. By making use of this finding, we were able to compare cortical potentials evoked by pursuit-induced retinal image slip under two conditions, which differed perceptually, while being identical physically. This approach allowed us to discern a pair of potentials, a parieto-occipital negativity (N300) followed by a frontal positivity (P300), whose amplitudes were solely determined by the subjective perception of visual motion irrespective of the physical attributes of the situation. This finding strongly suggests that subjective awareness of visual motion depends on neuronal activity in a parietooccipito-frontal network, which excludes the early stages of visual processing.