Oculomotor involvement in spatial working memory is task-specific

Keira Ball, David G. Pearson, Daniel T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Many everyday tasks, such as remembering where you parked, require the capacity to store and manipulate information about the visual and spatial properties of the world. The ability to represent, remember, and manipulate spatial information is known as visuospatial working memory (VSWM). Despite substantial interest in VSWM the mechanisms responsible for this ability remain debated. One influential idea is that VSWM depends on activity in the eye-movement (oculomotor) system. However, this has proved difficult to test because experimental paradigms that disrupt oculomotor control also interfere with other cognitive systems, such as spatial attention. Here, we present data from a novel paradigm that selectively disrupts activation in the oculomotor system. We show that the inability to make eye-movements is associated with impaired performance on the Corsi Blocks task, but not on Arrow Span, Visual Patterns, Size Estimation or Digit Span tasks. It is argued that the oculomotor system is required to encode and maintain spatial locations indicted by a change in physical salience, but not non-salient spatial locations indicated by the meaning of a symbolic cue. This suggestion offers a way to reconcile the currently conflicting evidence regarding the role of the oculomotor system in spatial working memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-446
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Early online date14 Sep 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • visual
  • spatial
  • working memory
  • eye movment
  • attention
  • saccade


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