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date: 17 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

At every moment, we face choices: Is it time to work, or to play? Should I listen to this lecture, or check my e-mail? Should I pay attention to what my significant other is saying, or do a mental inventory of what work I need to accomplish today? Should I keep my hands on the wheel, or change the radio station? Without any change to the external environment, it is possible to select a subset of these possibilities for further action. The process of selection is called attention, and it operates in many domains, from selecting our higher level goals, to selecting the sensory information on which we focus, to selecting what actions we perform. This chapter focuses on the relationship between visual attention (selecting visual inputs) and action (selecting and executing movements of the body). As a case study, the authors focus on visual-spatial attention, the act of choosing to attend to a particular location in the visual field, and its relationship to eye-movement control. Visual attention appears to select the targets for eye movements because attention to a location necessarily precedes an eye movement to that location. Moreover, there is a great deal of overlap in the neural mechanisms that control spatial attention and eye movements, and the neural mechanisms that are specialized for spatial attention or eye-movements are highly intertwined. This link between spatial attention and eye movements strongly supports the idea that a computational goal of the visual attention system is to select targets for action, and suggests that many of the design properties of the spatial attention system might be optimized for the control of eye movements. Whether this relationship will hold broadly between other forms of attention (e.g., goal selection, auditory selection, tactile selection) and other forms of action (e.g., hand movements and locomotion) is an important topic of contemporary and future research.

Keywords: attention, action, visual attention, visual-spatial attention, eye movements, spatial attention

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