Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 9–18

The influence of future gaze orientation upon eye-head coupling during saccades

Research Article


Mammals with foveas (or analogous retinal specializations) frequently shift gaze without moving the head, and their behavior contrasts sharply with “afoveate” mammals, in which eye and head movements are strongly coupled. The ability to move the eyes without moving the head could reflect a gating mechanism that blocks a default eye-head synergy when an attempted head movement would be energetically wasteful. Based upon such considerations of efficiency, we predicted that for saccades to targets lying within the ocular motor range, the tendency to generate a head movement would depend upon a subject’s expectations regarding future directions of gaze. We tested this hypothesis in two experiments with normal human subjects instructed to fixate sequences of lighted targets on a semicircular array. In the target direction experiment, we determined whether subjects were more likely to move the head during a small gaze shift if they expected that they would be momentarily required to make a second, larger shift in the same direction. Adding the onward-directed target increased significantly the distribution of final head positions (customary head orientation range, CHOR) observed during fixation of the primary target from 16.6±4.9° to 25.2±7.8°. The difference reflected an increase in the probability, and possibly the amplitude, of head movements. In the target duration experiment, we determined whether head movements were potentiated when subjects expected that gaze would be held in the vicinity of the target for a longer period of time. Prolonging fixation increased CHOR significantly from 53.7±18.8° to 63.2±15.9°. Larger head movements were evoked for any given target eccentricity, due to a narrowing in the gap between the x-intercepts of the head amplitude:target eccentricity relationship. The results are consistent with the idea that foveate mammals use knowledge of future gaze direction to influence the coupling of saccadic commands to premotor circuitry of the head. While the circuits ultimately mediating the coupling may lie within the brainstem, our results suggest that the cerebrum plays a supervisory role, since it is a likely seat of expectation regarding target behavior. Eye-head coupling may reflect separate gating and scaling mechanisms, and changes in head movement tendencies may reflect parametric modulation of either mechanism.


Eye-head coordination Gaze saccade Ocular motor range Human Video oculography 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian S. Oommen
    • 1
  • Ryan M. Smith
    • 1
  • John S. Stahl
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Departments of NeurologyLouis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeurologyUniversity Hospitals of ClevelandClevelandUSA

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