, Volume 179, Issue 3, pp 427-442

Look-ahead fixations: anticipatory eye movements in natural tasks

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Abstract

During performance of natural tasks subjects sometimes fixate objects that are manipulated several seconds later. Such early looks are known as “look-ahead fixations” (Pelz and Canosa in Vision Res 41(25–26):3587–3596, 2001). To date, little is known about their function. To investigate the possible role of these fixations, we measured fixation patterns in a model-building task. Subjects assembled models in two sequences where reaching and grasping were interrupted in one sequence by an additional action. Results show look-ahead fixations prior to 20% of the reaching and grasping movements, occurring on average 3 s before the reach. Their frequency was influenced by task sequence, suggesting that they are purposeful and have a role in task planning. To see if look-aheads influenced the subsequent eye movement during the reach, we measured eye-hand latencies and found they increased by 122 ms following a look-ahead to the target. The initial saccades to the target that accompanied a reach were also more accurate following a look-ahead. These results demonstrate that look-aheads influence subsequent visuo-motor coordination, and imply that visual information on the temporal and spatial structure of the scene was retained across intervening fixations and influenced subsequent movement programming. Additionally, head movements that accompanied look-aheads were significantly smaller in amplitude (by 10°) than those that accompanied reaches to the same locations, supporting previous evidence that head movements play a role in the control of hand movements. This study provides evidence of the anticipatory use of gaze in acquiring information about objects for future manipulation.