Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Express saccades and visual attention

B. Fischera1 and H. Webera1

a1 Department of Neurophysiology, University of Freiburg, D - 78 Freiburg, Germany Electronic mail:


One of the most intriguing and controversial observations in oculomotor research in recent years is the phenomenon of express saccades in monkeys and man. These are saccades with such short reaction times (100 msec in man, 70 msec in monkeys) that some experts on eye movements still regard them as artifacts or as anticipatory reactions that do not need any further explanation. On the other hand, some research groups consider them not only authentic but also a valuable means of investigating the mechanisms of saccade generation, the coordination of vision and eye movements, and the mechanisms of visual attention.

This target article puts together pieces of experimental evidence in oculomotor and related research – with special emphasis on the express saccade – to enhance our present understanding of the coordination of vision, visual attention, and the eye movements subserving visual perception and cognition.

We hypothesize that an optomotor reflex is responsible for the occurrence of express saccades, one that is controlled by higher brain functions involved in disengaged visual attention and decision making. We propose a neural network as the basis for more elaborate mathematical models or computer simulations of the optomotor system in primates.