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Psychol Sci. 2002 Jul;13(4):370-4.

Visual search is modulated by action intentions.

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  • 1Department of Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research, Munich, Germany. h.bekkering@ppsw.rug.nl


The influence of action intentions on visual selection processes was investigated in a visual search paradigm. A predefined target object with a certain orientation and color was presented among distractors, and subjects had to either look and point at the target or look at and grasp the target. Target selection processes prior to the first saccadic eye movement were modulated by the different action intentions. Specifically, fewer saccades to objects with the wrong orientation were made in the grasping condition than in the pointing condition, whereas the number of saccades to an object with the wrong color was the same in the two conditions. Saccadic latencies were similar under the different task conditions, so the results cannot be explained by a speed-accuracy trade-off. The results suggest that a specific action intention, such as grasping, can enhance visual processing of action-relevant features, such as orientation. Together the findings support the view that visual attention can be best understood as a selection-for-action mechanism.

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