Paying attention through eye movements: a computational investigation of the premotor theory of spatial attention

J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Jul;24(7):1519-31. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00231. Epub 2012 Mar 27.


Growing evidence indicates that planning eye movements and orienting visuospatial attention share overlapping brain mechanisms. A tight link between endogenous attention and eye movements is maintained by the premotor theory, in contrast to other accounts that postulate the existence of specific attention mechanisms that modulate the activity of information processing systems. The strong assumption of equivalence between attention and eye movements, however, is challenged by demonstrations that human observers are able to keep attention on a specific location while moving the eyes elsewhere. Here we investigate whether a recurrent model of saccadic planning can account for attentional effects without requiring additional or specific mechanisms separate from the circuits that perform sensorimotor transformations for eye movements. The model builds on the basis function approach and includes a circuit that performs spatial remapping using an "internal forward model" of how visual inputs are modified as a result of saccadic movements. Simulations show that the latter circuit is crucial to account for dissociations between attention and eye movements that may be invoked to disprove the premotor theory. The model provides new insights into how spatial remapping may be implemented in parietal cortex and offers a computational framework for recent proposals that link visual stability with remapping of attention pointers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Random Allocation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*