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Department of Psychology


Publication details for Dr Daniel Smith

Smith, D.T. & Casteau, S. (2018). The effect of offset cues on saccade programming and covert attention. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Author(s) from Durham


Salient peripheral events trigger fast, ‘exogenous’ covert orienting. The influential Premotor Theory of attention argues that covert orienting of attention depends upon planned but unexecuted eye-movements.
One problem with this theory is that salient peripheral events, such as offsets, appear to summon attention when used to measure covert attention (e.g. the Posner cueing task), but appear not to elicit oculomotor preparation in tasks that require overt orienting (e.g. the remote distractor paradigm). Here, we examined the effects of peripheral offsets on covert attention and saccade preparation. Experiment 1 suggested that transient offsets summoned attention in a manual detection task without triggering motor preparation planning in a saccadic localisation task, although there were a high proportion of saccadic capture errors on ‘no-target’ trials, where a cue was presented but no target appeared.
In Experiment 2 ‘no-target’ trials were removed. Here, transient offsets produced both attentional facilitation and faster saccadic responses on valid cue trials. A third experiment showed that the permanent disappearance of an object also elicited attentional facilitation and faster saccadic reaction times. These experiments demonstrate that offsets trigger both saccade programming and covert attentional orienting, consistent with the idea that exogenous, covert orienting is tightly coupled with oculomotor activation. The finding that no-go trials attenuates oculomotor priming effects offers a way to reconcile the current findings with previous claims of a dissociation between covert attention and oculomotor control in paradigms that utilise a high proportion of catch trials (e.g. Klein 1980).