Updating the premotor theory: the allocation of attention is not always accompanied by saccade preparation

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There is an ongoing controversy regarding the relationship between covert attention and saccadic eye movements. While there is quite some evidence that the preparation of a saccade is obligatory preceded by a shift of covert attention, the reverse is not clear: Is allocation of attention always accompanied by saccade preparation? Recently, a shifting and maintenance account was proposed suggesting that shifting and maintenance components of covert attention differ in their relation to the oculomotor system. Specifically, it was argued that a shift of covert attention is always accompanied by activation of the oculomotor program, while maintaining covert attention at a location can be accompanied either by activation or suppression of oculomotor program, depending on the probability of executing an eye movement to the attended location. In the present study we tested whether there is such an obligatory coupling between shifting of attention and saccade preparation and how quickly saccade preparation gets suppressed. The results showed that attention shifting was always accompanied by saccade preparation whenever covert attention had to be shifted during visual search, as well as in response to exogenous or endogenous cues. However, for the endogenous cues the saccade program to the attended location was suppressed very soon after the attention shift was completed. The current findings support the shifting and maintenance account and indicate that the premotor theory needs to be updated to include a shifting and maintenance component for the cases in which covert shifts of attention are made without the intention to execute a saccade. © 2012 American Psychological Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-914
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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