Individuals vary substantially in their attitudes towards uncertainty: some embrace it, while others avoid it at all costs; some learn quickly to reduce uncertainty, while others do not. I will describe a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies, in which we examined decision-making, learning, and passive valuation in uncertain environments. Our behavioral results show age-related changes in specific features of behavior under uncertainty, as well as links between some of these features and pathological behavior. Our neural results reveal potential mechanisms for these individual and age-related differences.
In humans, high visual acuity is restricted to a small (~1o) region of the retina: the foveola. Even if the foveola covers less than 1% of the visual field, the stimulus within this region can be complex, particularly when examining natural scenes. What are the contributions of attention and eye movements in foveal vision? Studying attention at this scale is challenging because small eye movements continuously shift the image on the retina, covering an area as large as the foveola itself. Furthermore, localizing the line of sight within a 1 degree region is challenging and beyond the capabilities of most eye-trackers. Thanks to a combination of techniques allowing for high-resolution recordings of eye position, retinal stabilization, and accurate gaze localization, we circumvented these challenges and examined how attention and visual exploration are controlled at the scale of the foveola. Here we show that fine spatial vision in the foveola is enhanced by means of three different mechanisms: (a) Covert shifts of attention. High-resolution attentional reallocations independent of eye movements improve vision at selected foveal locations. (b) Microsaccade preparation. Planning of microsaccades, saccades smaller than half a degree, enhances fine spatial vision at the microsaccade target location at the expenses of other nearby locations within the foveola. (c) Visual exploration. The visual system possesses not only a coarser priority map of the extrafoveal space to guide saccades, but also a finer grain priority map that is used to guide microsaccades once the region of interest is foveated. The precise repositioning of the preferred retinal locus by means of microsaccades enables visual exploration of foveal stimuli. Our findings show that, contrary to common intuition, simply placing a stimulus within the foveola is not sufficient for fine spatial vision; vision is the outcome of an orchestrated synergy of motor, cognitive and attentional factors at all levels, from the examination of visual scenes to the examination of detail.