The left parietal cortex and motor attention

Neuropsychologia. 1997 Sep;35(9):1261-73. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(97)00050-x.


The posterior parietal cortex, particularly in the right hemisphere, is crucially important for covert orienting; lesions impair the ability to disengage the focus of covert orienting attention from one potential saccade target to another (Posner, M. I. et al., Journal of Neuroscience, 1984, 4, 1863-1874). We have developed a task where precues allow subjects to covertly prepare subsequent cued hand movements, as opposed to an orienting or eye movement. We refer to this process as motor attention to distinguish it from orienting attention. Nine subjects with lesions that included the left parietal cortex and nine subjects with lesions including the right parietal cortex were compared with control subjects on the task. The left hemisphere subjects showed the same ability as controls to engage attention to a movement when they were forewarned by a valid precue. The left hemisphere subjects, however, were impaired in their ability to disengage the focus of motor attention from one movement to another when the precue was incorrect. The results support the existence of two distinct attentional systems allied to the orienting and limb motor systems. Damage to either system causes analogous problems in disengaging from one orienting/movement target to another. The left parietal cortex, particularly the supramarginal gyrus, is associated with motor attention. All the left hemisphere subjects had ideomotor apraxia and had particular problems performing sequences of movements. We suggest that the well documented left hemisphere and apraxic impairment in movement sequencing is the consequence of a difficulty in shifting the focus of motor attention from one movement in a sequence to the next.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Apraxias / diagnosis
  • Apraxias / etiology*
  • Attention*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / injuries*
  • Reaction Time