Separate visual representations for perception and action revealed by saccadic eye movements

David C. Burr, M. Concetta Morrone, John Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Some 30 years ago, Trevarthen [1] introduced the idea of two separate visual systems, a focal system for fine motor acts and an ambient system for gross body movements such as ambulation. More recent developments indicating anatomically and physiologically separate pathways in primate vision [2] have led to a different idea of separate visual systems, one for conscious perception and one for action [3]. It has received empirical support from several studies showing that pointing, reaching, and grasping can remain accurate while the perceived position or size of objects is subject to illusory distortion [4-6]. However, much of this evidence has been challenged on the grounds of methodological flaws, particularly failure to match perfectly the conditions for verbal and motor tasks and failure to replicate results [7-10]. Here we take advantage of the strong compression of perceived position that occurs around the time of saccadic eye movements [11, 12]. Under normal lighting conditions, stimuli flashed briefly over a wide range of spatial positions just before saccadic onset are neither seen nor reached for in their veridical positions, but are compressed toward the saccadic target. We validate the idea of separate systems by showing that, in the dark, subjects are able to point accurately to the correct target position, even though their verbal reports are still subject to compression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)798-802
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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