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The role of the oculomotor system in covert social attention.

Morgan, E.J. and Ball, K. and Smith, D.T. (2014) 'The role of the oculomotor system in covert social attention.', Attention, perception, & psychophysics., 76 (5). pp. 1265-1270.


Observing a change in gaze direction triggers a reflexive shift of attention and appears to engage the eye-movement system. However, the functional relationship between social attention and this oculomotor activation is unclear. One extremely influential hypothesis is that the preparation of a saccadic eye movement is necessary and sufficient for a covert, reflexive shift of attention (the premotor theory of attention; Rizzolatti et al., 1994). Surprisingly, this theory has not been directly tested with respect to reflexive gaze cueing. In order to address this issue, gaze cueing, peripheral cueing, and arrow cueing were examined under conditions in which some stimuli appeared at locations that could not become the goal of a saccadic eye movement. It was observed that peripheral cues failed to elicit reflexive attentional orienting when targets appeared beyond the range of eye movements. Similarly, nonpredictive arrow cues were ineffective when targets could not become the goal of a saccade. In contrast, significant gaze-cueing effects were still observed when targets were beyond the range of eye movements. These data demonstrate that the mechanisms involved in gaze cueing are dissociated from those involved in exogenous orienting to peripheral or arrow cues. Furthermore, the findings suggest that, unlike peripheral cueing and reflexive arrow cueing, gaze cueing is independent of oculomotor control. We conclude that the premotor theory does not offer a compelling explanation for gaze cueing.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:The final publication is available at Springer via
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:27 January 2017
Date of first online publication:19 June 2014
Date first made open access:No date available

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