The Role of Inhibitory Control of Reflex Mechanisms in Voluntary Behavior



Gaze is often a powerful cue as to where someone’s attention is directed and as to what someone intends to do. However, the relationship between fixational eye movements, attention, and intentions is not always straightforward. The phenomenon of covert attention, by which we can direct attention to visual objects that are not being foveated, demonstrates that visual attention can be uncoupled from eye fixations. Observations such as these suggest that eye movements are an example of interaction between reflexive and voluntary behavior. Shifts of selective visual attention are controlled in part by the same frontal areas that control voluntary eye movements. The role of voluntary inhibition of reflex eye movements is clearly shown in the antisaccade task, in which participants learn to look away from a salient stimulus that would trigger a reflex saccade. Voluntary inhibition of reflex behavior in humans appears to be a prerequisite for the emergence of free will.


Gaze Saccade Inhibition Visual attention Free will 



Preparation of this chapter was supported by grants from the European Union (231722, IM-CLeVeR) and from the National Institutes of Health (R01 HD054979, R21 HD068584)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lab of Developmental NeuroscienceUniversità Campus Bio-MedicoRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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