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Curr Biol. 2004 May 4;14(9):792-5.

Exogenous orienting of attention depends upon the ability to execute eye movements.

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School of Psychology, The University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdom.


Shifts of attention can be made overtly by moving the eyes or covertly with attention being allocated to a region of space that does not correspond to the current direction of gaze. However, the precise relationship between eye movements and the covert orienting of attention remains controversial. The influential premotor theory proposes that the covert orienting of attention is produced by the programming of (unexecuted) eye movements and thus predicts a strong relationship between the ability to execute eye movements and the operation of spatial attention. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that impaired spatial attention is observed in an individual (AI) who is neurologically healthy but who cannot execute eye movements as a result of a congenital impairment in the elasticity of her eye muscles. This finding provides direct support for the role of the eye-movement system in the covert orienting of attention and suggests that whereas intact cortical structures may be necessary for normal attentional reflexes, they are not sufficient. The ability to move our eyes is essential for the development of normal patterns of spatial attention.

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