"Paradoxical Modulation of Motor Actions by Attention"

Past Event Date: 

Meeting room: 

Room 204 - Main Conference Room

Event Type: 

Presenter: Assistant Professor Joo-Hyun Song

Dept. of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences

Brown University 

Host: Preeti Verghese, Ph.D.


Vision is crucial not only for recognizing objects, but also for guiding actions. Most real-world visual scenes are

complex and crowded with many different objects competing for attention and action. In order to efficiently guide

motor actions, the visual system must be capable of selecting one object as the target of the current action, while

suppressing the wealth of other irrelevant possibilities. It is generally accepted that more perceptually salient

stimuli are able to attract attention automatically and thus are more disruptive to behavior than weakly salient

distractors. Yet, counter intuitively, we recently discovered dissociable effects of salience on perception and

action: while highly salient stimuli interfere strongly with perceptual processing, increased physical salience

or associated value attenuates action-related interference. Thus, this result suggests the existence of

salience-triggered suppression mechanisms specific to goal-directed actions. Furthermore, we observed that

attentional distraction does not impair the original learning of a simple visuomotor rotational adaptation task.

Paradoxically, successful recall of the visuomotor skill only occurs when a similar level of attentional

distraction is present.  This finding suggests that performing a distractor task acts as an internal ‘attentional

context’ for encoding and retrieving of motor memory.  Therefore without consideration of internal task

contexts in real-life situations, the success of learning and rehabilitation programs may be undermined. Taken

together, understanding integrated attention-action systems provides new insights into our seamlessly

interaction with a complex external world.