On the link between attentional search and the oculomotor system: Is preattentive search restricted to the range of eye movements?

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2020 Feb;82(2):518-532. doi: 10.3758/s13414-019-01949-4.


It has been proposed that covert visual search can be fast, efficient, and stimulus driven, particularly when the target is defined by a salient single feature, or slow, inefficient, and effortful when the target is defined by a nonsalient conjunction of features. This distinction between fast, stimulus-driven orienting and slow, effortful orienting can be related to the distinction between exogenous spatial attention and endogenous spatial attention. Several studies have shown that exogenous, covert orienting is limited to the range of saccadic eye movements, whereas covert endogenous orienting is independent of the range of saccadic eye movements. The current study examined whether covert visual search is affected in a similar way. Experiment 1 showed that covert visual search for feature singletons was impaired when stimuli were presented beyond the range of saccadic eye movements, whereas conjunction search was unaffected by array position. Experiment 2 replicated and extended this effect by measuring search times at 6 eccentricities. The impairment in covert feature search emerged only when stimuli crossed the effective oculomotor range and remained stable for locations further into the periphery, ruling out the possibility that the results of Experiment 1 were due to a failure to fully compensate for the effects of cortical magnification. The findings are interpreted in terms of biased competition and oculomotor theories of spatial attention. It is concluded that, as with covert exogenous orienting, biological constraints on overt orienting in the oculomotor system constrain covert, preattentive search.

Keywords: Attention; Covert visual search; Eye movement; Oculomotor control; Preattentive search.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Random Allocation
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Young Adult