Dynamic allocation of visual attention during the execution of sequences of saccades

Timothy M. Gersch, Eileen Kowler, Barbara Dosher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Laboratory tasks used to study vision and attention usually require steady fixation, while natural visual processing occurs during the brief pauses between successive saccades. We studied vision and attentional allocation during intersaccadic pauses as subjects made repetitive sequences of saccades. Displays contained six outline squares located along the perimeter of an imaginary circle (diam 4°). Saccades were made in sequence to every other square. The visual task was to identify the orientation (2AFC) of a Gabor test stimulus that appeared briefly (91 ms) along with superimposed noise in one of the squares during a randomly selected intersaccadic pause. Gabor location was cued in advance and noise frames were presented in all squares. Contrast thresholds during intersaccadic pauses were as much as 2-3 times higher than during steady fixation with comparable cueing. Thresholds improved over time during the intersaccadic pause, and the lowest extrafoveal thresholds (statistically indistinguishable from those at the same locations during steady fixation) were found for the location that was to be the target of the next saccade in the sequence. These results show that vision during intersaccadic pauses varies over space and time due to changes in the distribution of attention, as well as to visual suppression that may be related to the execution of the saccades themselves. Generation of sequences of accurate saccades encouraged a strategy of attentional allocation in which resources were dedicated primarily to the goal of the next saccade, leaving little attention for processing objects at other locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1469-1483
Number of pages15
JournalVision Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


  • Allocation of attention
  • Attention
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Contrast thresholds
  • Eye movements
  • Intersaccadic pause
  • Saccades
  • Saccadic sequences
  • Saccadic suppression


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