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Vision Res. 2010 Jun 11;50(12):1173-84. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2010.04.007. Epub 2010 Apr 9.

Rare but precious: microsaccades are highly informative about attentional allocation.

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Cognitive Biology, Institute of Biology, Otto-von-Guericke Universit├Ąt, Leipziger Strasse 44/Haus 91, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany.


To clarify the relation between attention and microsaccades, we monitored microsaccades while observers performed tasks with different attentional demand. In four high-demand conditions, observers shifted attention covertly to a peripheral location, or focused attention at fixation. Three corresponding low-demand conditions on physically identical displays provided a basis for comparison. Our results revealed two distinct effects of attentional load: higher loads were associated consistently with lower microsaccade rates, but also with increased directional selectivity (up to 98% congruent). In short, when microsaccades were most rare, the direction of microsaccades proved most informative about the location of the attention focus. The detailed time-courses of the two effects differed, however, suggesting that they may reflect independent processes.

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