Humans and other animals with foveate vision make saccadic eye movements to prioritize the visual analysis of behaviorally relevant information. Even before movement onset, visual processing is selectively enhanced at the target of a saccade, presumably gated by brain areas controlling eye movements. Here we assess concurrent changes in visual performance and perceived contrast before saccades, and show that saccade preparation enhances perception rapidly, altering early visual processing in a manner akin to increasing the physical contrast of the visual input. Observers compared orientation and contrast of a test stimulus, appearing briefly before a saccade, to a standard stimulus, presented previously during a fixation period. We found simultaneous progressive enhancement in both orientation discrimination performance and perceived contrast as time approached saccade onset. These effects were robust as early as 60 ms after the eye movement was cued, much faster than the voluntary deployment of covert attention (without eye movements), which takes ~ 300 ms. Our results link the dynamics of saccade preparation, visual performance, and subjective experience and show that upcoming eye movements alter visual processing by increasing the signal strength.
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