Lack of automatic attentional orienting by gaze cues following a bilateral loss of visual cortex

Nicolas Burra*, Dirk Kerzel, Beatrice de Gelder, Alan J. Pegna

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In social interactions, the location of relevant stimuli is often indicated by the orientation of gaze. It has been proposed that the direction of gaze might produce an automatic cueing of attention, similar to what is observed with exogenous cues. However, several reports have challenged this claim by demonstrating that the behavioral gain that arises with gaze cueing could be explained by shifts of attention, which are intentional and not automatic. We reasoned that if cueing by gaze was truly automatic, it should occur without awareness and should be sustained by subcortical circuits, including the amygdalae, independently of the main geniculo-striate visual pathway. We presented a cross-modal version of the Posner cueing paradigm to a patient (TN) with bilateral lesions of occipital cortex (Burra et al., 2013; Pegna, Khateb, Lazeyras, & Seghier, 2005). TN was asked to localize a sound using a key press. The location of the sound was congruent or incongruent with the direction of gaze of a face-cue. In groups of healthy young and age-matched participants, we observed significantly longer response times for incongruent than congruent sounds, suggesting that gaze direction interfered with processing of localized sounds. By contrast, TN's performance was not affected by sound-gaze congruence. The results suggest that the processing of gaze orientation cannot occur in the absence of geniculo-striate processing, suggesting that it is not automatic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-80
Issue number1
Early online dateApr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Blindsight
  • Gaze
  • Attention
  • Amygdala


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