Reorienting attention across the horizontal and vertical meridians: evidence in favor of a premotor theory of attention

Neuropsychologia. 1987;25(1A):31-40. doi: 10.1016/0028-3932(87)90041-8.


Stimuli presented in a non-attended location are responded to much slower than stimuli presented in an attended one. The hypotheses proposed to explain this effect make reference to covert movement of attention, hemifield inhibition, or attentional gradients. The experiment reported here was aimed at discriminating among these hypotheses. Subjects were cued to attend to one of four possible stimulus locations, which were arranged either horizontally or vertically, above, below, to the right or left of a fixation point. The instructions were to respond manually as fast as possible to the occurrence of a visual stimulus, regardless of whether it occurred in a cued or in a non-cued location. In 70% of the cued trials the stimulus was presented in the cued location and in 30% in one of the non-cued locations. In addition there were trials in which a non-directional cue instructed the subject to pay attention to all four locations. The results showed that the correct orienting of attention yielded a small but significant benefit; the incorrect orienting of attention yielded a large and significant cost; the cost tended to increase as a function of the distance between the attended location and the location that was actually stimulated; and an additional cost was incurred when the stimulated and attended locations were on opposite sides of the vertical or horizontal meridian. We concluded that neither the hypothesis postulating hemifield inhibition nor that postulating movement of attention with a constant time can explain the data. The hypothesis of an attention gradient and that of attention movements with a constant speed are tenable in principle, but they fail to account for the effect of crossing the horizontal and vertical meridians. A hypothesis is proposed that postulates a strict link between covert orienting of attention and programming explicit ocular movements. Attention is oriented to a given point when the oculomotor programme for moving the eyes to this point is ready to be executed. Attentional cost is the time required to erase one ocular program and prepare the next one.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Cues
  • Dominance, Cerebral
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Orientation*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception*