The role of attention in the programming of saccades

Vision Res. 1995 Jul;35(13):1897-916. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(94)00279-u.


Accurate saccadic programming in natural visual scenes requires a signal designating which of the many potential targets is to be the goal of the saccade. Is this signal controlled by the allocation of perceptual attention, or do saccades have their own independent selective filter? We found evidence for the involvement of perceptual attention, namely: (1) summoning perceptual attention to a target also facilitated saccades; (2) perceptual identification was better at the saccadic goal than elsewhere; and (3) attempts to dissociate the locus of attention from the saccadic goal were unsuccessful, i.e. it was not possible to prepare to look quickly and accurately at one target while at the same time making highly accurate perceptual judgements about targets elsewhere. We also studied the trade-off between saccadic and perceptual performance by means of a novel application of the "attentional operating characteristic" (AOC) to oculomotor performance. This analysis revealed that some attention could be diverted from the saccadic goal with virtually no cost to either saccadic latency or accuracy, showing that there is a ceiling on the attentional demands of saccades. The links we discovered between saccades and attention can be explained by a model in which perceptual attention determines the endpoint of the saccade, while a separate trigger signal initiates the saccade in response to transient changes in the attentional locus. The model will be discussed in the context of current neurophysiological work on saccadic control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Psychophysics
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vision, Monocular / physiology