Gaze is driven by an internal goal trajectory in a visuomotor task

J. J. Tramper, A. Lamont, M. Flanders, S. Gielen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


When we make hand movements to visual targets, gaze usually leads hand position by a series of saccades to task-relevant locations. Recent research suggests that the slow smooth pursuit eye movement system may interact with the saccadic system in complex tasks, suggesting that the smooth pursuit system can receive non-retinal input. We hypothesise that a combination of saccades and smooth pursuit guides the hand movements towards a goal in a complex environment, using an internal representation of future trajectories as input to the visuomotor system. This would imply that smooth pursuit leads hand position, which is remarkable, as the general idea is that smooth pursuit is driven by retinal slip. To test this hypothesis, we designed a video-game task in which human subjects used their thumbs to move two cursors to a common goal position while avoiding stationary obstacles. We found that gaze led the cursors by a series of saccades interleaved with ocular fixation or pursuit. Smooth pursuit was correlated with neither cursor position nor cursor velocity. We conclude that a combination of fast and slow eye movements, driven by an internal goal instead of a retinal goal, led the cursor movements, and that both saccades and pursuit are driven by an internal representation of future trajectories of the hand. The lead distance of gaze relative to the hand may reflect a compromise between exploring future hand (cursor) paths and verifying that the cursors move along the desired paths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1112-1119
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Human
  • Oculomotor neurophysiology
  • Saccades
  • Smooth pursuit


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