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Topfstedt, Christof Elias; Wollenberg, Luca; Schenk, Thomas (2023): The role of habitual learning in premotor attention allocation. Journal of Vision, 23 (5): 19. pp. 1-18. ISSN 1534-7362

[thumbnail of i0035-8711-23-5-19_1684992054.92053.pdf] Published Article

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Dual-task studies have demonstrated that goal-directed actions are typically preceded by a premotor shift of visual attention toward the movement goal location. This finding is often taken as evidence for an obligatory coupling between attention and motor preparation. Here, we examined whether this coupling entails a habitual component relating to an expectation of spatial congruence between visual and motor targets. In two experiments, participants had to identify a visual discrimination target (DT) while preparing variably delayed pointing movements to a motor target (MT). To induce distinct expectations regarding the DT position, different groups of participants performed a training phase in which the DT either always appeared at MT, opposite to MT, or at an unpredictable position. In a subsequent test phase, the DT position was randomized to assess the impact of learned expectancy on premotor attention allocation. Although we applied individually determined DT presentation times in the test phase of Experiment 1, a fixed DT presentation time was used in Experiment 2. Both experiments yielded evidence for attentional enhancement at the expected DT position. Although interpretability of this effect was limited in Experiment 1 because of between-group differences in DT presentation time, results of Experiment 2 were much clearer. Specifically, a marked discrimination benefit was observed at the position opposite to MT in participants anticipating the DT at this position, whereas no statistically significant benefit was found at MT. Crucially, this was observed at short movement delays, demonstrating that expectation of spatial incongruence between visual and motor targets allows for decoupling of attentional resources from ongoing motor preparation. Based on our findings, we suggest that premotor attention shifts entail a considerable habitual component rather than being the sole result of motor programming.

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