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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • electroencephalography;
  • human;
  • saccade;
  • spatial cue

Abstract

When preparing to make a saccadic eye movement in a cued direction, perception of stimuli at the target location is enhanced, just as it is when attention is covertly deployed there. Accordingly, the timing and anatomical sources of preparatory brain activity accompanying shifts of covert attention and saccade preparation tend to exhibit a large degree of overlap. However, there is evidence that preparatory processes are modulated by the foreknowledge of visual distractor competition during covert attention, and it is unknown whether eye movement preparation undergoes equivalent modulation. Here we examine preparatory processes in the electroencephalogram of human participants during four blocked versions of a spatial cueing task, requiring either covert detection or saccade execution, and either containing a distractor or not. As in previous work, a typical pattern of spatially selective occipital, parietal and frontal activity was seen in all task versions. However, whereas distractor presence called on an enhancement of spatially selective visual cortical modulation during covert attention, it instead called on increased activity over frontomedial oculomotor areas in the case of overt saccade preparation. We conclude that, although advance orienting signals may be similar in character during overt and covert conditions, the pattern by which these signals are modulated to ameliorate the behavioral costs of distractor competition is highly distinct, pointing to a degree of separability between the overt and covert systems.