Vision in Flies: Measuring the Attention Span

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 5;11(2):e0148208. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148208. eCollection 2016.


A visual stimulus at a particular location of the visual field may elicit a behavior while at the same time equally salient stimuli in other parts do not. This property of visual systems is known as selective visual attention (SVA). The animal is said to have a focus of attention (FoA) which it has shifted to a particular location. Visual attention normally involves an attention span at the location to which the FoA has been shifted. Here the attention span is measured in Drosophila. The fly is tethered and hence has its eyes fixed in space. It can shift its FoA internally. This shift is revealed using two simultaneous test stimuli with characteristic responses at their particular locations. In tethered flight a wild type fly keeps its FoA at a certain location for up to 4s. Flies with a mutation in the radish gene, that has been suggested to be involved in attention-like mechanisms, display a reduced attention span of only 1s.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Mutation
  • Phosphoproteins / genetics
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Probability
  • Visual Perception*


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Phosphoproteins
  • rad protein, Drosophila

Grant support

This work was funded by the German Science Foundation (Reinhart Koselleck Project, He986/20-1). The fundershad no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.