An attentional limbo: Saccades become momentarily non-selective in between saliency-driven and relevance-driven selection

Elle van Heusden*, Wieske van Zoest, Mieke Donk, Christian N.L. Olivers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Human vision involves selectively directing the eyes to potential objects of interest. According to most prominent theories, selection is the quantal outcome of an ongoing competition between saliency-driven signals on the one hand, and relevance-driven signals on the other, with both types of signals continuously and concurrently projecting onto a common priority map. Here, we challenge this view. We asked participants to make a speeded eye movement towards a target orientation, which was presented together with a non-target of opposing tilt. In addition to the difference in relevance, the target and non-target also differed in saliency, with the target being either more or less salient than the non-target. We demonstrate that saliency- and relevance-driven eye movements have highly idiosyncratic temporal profiles, with saliency-driven eye movements occurring rapidly after display onset while relevance-driven eye movements occur only later. Remarkably, these types of eye movements can be fully separated in time: We find that around 250 ms after display onset, eye movements are no longer driven by saliency differences between potential targets, but also not yet driven by relevance information, resulting in a period of non-selectivity, which we refer to as the attentional limbo. Binomial modeling further confirmed that visual selection is not necessarily the outcome of a direct battle between saliency- and relevance-driven signals. Instead, selection reflects the dynamic changes in the underlying saliency- and relevance-driven processes themselves, and the time at which an action is initiated then determines which of the two will emerge as the driving force of behavior.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Early online date4 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO; grant 453–16-002, to C.N.L.O.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Eye movements
  • Goal-driven selection
  • Priority map
  • Saliency-driven selection
  • Visual search
  • Goal-driven Selection
  • Priority Map
  • Visual Search
  • Saliency-driven Selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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