Finding the balance between capture and control: Oculomotor selection in early deaf adults

Benedetta Heimler*, Wieske van Zoest, Francesca Baruffaldi, Mieke Donk, Pasquale Rinaldi, Maria Cristina Caselli, Francesco Pavani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Previous work investigating the consequence of bilateral deafness on attentional selection suggests that experience-dependent changes in this population may result in increased automatic processing of stimulus-driven visual information (e.g., saliency). However, adaptive behavior also requires observers to prioritize goal-driven information relevant to the task at hand. In order to investigate whether auditory deprivation alters the balance between these two components of attentional selection, we assessed the time-course of overt visual selection in deaf adults. Twenty early-deaf adults and twenty hearing controls performed an oculomotor additional singleton paradigm. Participants made a speeded eye-movement to a unique orientation target, embedded among homogenous non-targets and one additional unique orientation distractor that was more, equally or less salient than the target. Saliency was manipulated through color. For deaf participants proficiency in sign language was assessed. Overall, results showed that fast initiated saccades were saliency-driven, whereas later initiated saccades were goal-driven. However, deaf participants were overall slower than hearing controls at initiating saccades and also less captured by task-irrelevant salient distractors. The delayed oculomotor behavior of deaf adults was not explained by any of the linguistic measures acquired. Importantly, a multinomial model applied to the data revealed a comparable evolution over time of the underlying saliency- and goal-driven processes between the two groups, confirming the crucial role of saccadic latencies in determining the outcome of visual selection performance. The present findings indicate that prioritization of saliency-driven information is not an unavoidable phenomenon in deafness. Possible neural correlates of the documented behavioral effect are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-27
Number of pages16
JournalBrain and Cognition
Early online date29 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


  • Early-deafness
  • Goal-driven
  • Oculomotor capture
  • Overt visual selection
  • Plasticity
  • Stimulus-driven

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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