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Brain areas that control gaze are also recruited for covert shifts of spatial attention1-9. In the external space of perception, there is a natural ecological link between the control of gaze and spatial attention, as information sampled at covertly attended locations can inform where to look next2,10,11. Attention can also be directed internally to representations held within the spatial layout of visual working memory12-16. In such cases, the incentive for using attention to direct gaze disappears, as there are no external targets to scan. Here we investigate whether the oculomotor system of the brain also participates in attention focusing within the internal space of memory. Paradoxically, we reveal this participation through gaze behaviour itself. We demonstrate that selecting an item from visual working memory biases gaze in the direction of the memorized location of that item, despite there being nothing to look at and location memory never explicitly being probed. This retrospective 'gaze bias' occurs only when an item is not already in the internal focus of attention, and it predicts the performance benefit associated with the focusing of internal attention. We conclude that the oculomotor system also participates in focusing attention within memorized space, leaving traces all the way to the eyes.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Hum Behav

Publication Date





462 - 470