Control of overt attention

author: Peter König, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück
published: April 3, 2014,   recorded: February 2014,   views: 2530


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Modern theories of cognition emphasize the role of bodily interactions with the environment. Eye movements are a prime example of such an intimate relation of sensory processing and motor behavior. In their lifetime humans perform more eye movements than any other type of behavior. Hence, they provide a unique window for observation of cognitive processes. Fueled by recent technological and algorithmic advances the combination of electrophysiological methods (EEG, MEG) with the study of eye movements the investigation of computational properties and physiological mechanisms of the control of eye movements has moved into the focus of research interest. In fact, eye movements can be predicted to a substantial degree based on the concept of salience maps incorporating low level image properties. This is maintained across repeated presentation of identical stimuli. Importantly, manipulating image properties reveals that this predictive power is at least in part a true causal mechanism. Yet, fMRI and clinical studies show that the physiological substrate is not located in early visual cortex, but higher-level areas. This is compatible with the observation of the emotions' Impact on Viewing Behavior under Natural Conditions. Finally, we can demonstrate that overt visual attention is a causal factor of perceptual awareness. In sum, these studies contribute to the pragmatic turn in cognitive science and advocate an embodied view of cognition.

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