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Paul J. Boon, Jan Theeuwes, Artem V. Belopolsky; Eye abduction reduces but does not eliminate competition in the oculomotor system. Journal of Vision 2017;17(5):15. doi: 10.1167/17.5.15.
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Although it is well established that there is a tight coupling between covert attention and the eye movement system there is an ongoing controversy whether this relationship is functional. Previous studies demonstrated that disrupting the ability to execute an eye movement interferes with the allocation of covert attention. One technique that prevents the execution of an eye movement involves the abduction of the eye in the orbit while presenting the stimuli outside of the effective oculomotor range (Craighero, Nascimben, & Fadiga, 2004). Although eye abduction is supposed to disrupt activation of the oculomotor program responsible for the shift of covert attention, this crucial assumption has never been tested experimentally. In the present study we used saccadic curvature to examine whether eye abduction eliminates the target-distractor competition in the oculomotor system. We experimentally reduced the ability to execute saccades by abducting the eye by 30° (monocular vision). This way the peripheral part of the temporal hemifield was located outside the oculomotor range. Participants made a vertical eye movement while on some trials a distractor was shown either inside or outside of the oculomotor range. The curvature away from distractors located outside the oculomotor range was reduced, but not completely eliminated. This confirms that eye abduction influences the activation of the oculomotor program, but points to the fact that other forms of motor planning, such as head movements are also represented in the oculomotor system. The results are in line with the idea that covert attention is an emerging property of movement planning, but is not restricted to saccade planning.
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