Flexible coupling of covert spatial attention and motor planning based on learned spatial contingencies

  • David DignathEmail author
  • Oliver Herbort
  • Aleksandra Pieczykolan
  • Lynn Huestegge
  • Andrea Kiesel
Original Article


The present study tested whether the coupling of covert attentional shifts and motor planning of pointing movements can be modulated by learning. Participants performed two tasks. As a primary movement task, they executed a pointing movement to a movement target (MT) location. As a secondary visual attention task, they identified a discrimination target (DT) that was presented shortly before initiation of the pointing movement. These DTs either occurred at the same or at different locations with the MT. A common finding in such and similar settings is the enhanced visual target identification when locations of MT and DT coincide. However, it is not known which factors govern the flexibility of spatial attention–action coupling. Here, we tested the influence of previously learned spatial contingencies between MT and DT on the coupling of covert attention and motor planning. These contingencies were manipulated in three groups (always same locations, always opposite locations, non-contingent locations) in a training session. Results indicated that in a subsequent test phase, previously learned contingencies enhanced visual identification accordingly, even when targets for the movement task and the visual task were presented at opposite sides. These results corroborate previous findings of a rather flexible interaction of attention and motor planning, and demonstrate how one can learn to control attention by means of motor planning.


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Dignath
    • 1
    Email author
  • Oliver Herbort
    • 2
  • Aleksandra Pieczykolan
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Lynn Huestegge
    • 2
    • 3
  • Andrea Kiesel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.University of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of Psychology 3University WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  4. 4.Human Technology CenterRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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