Eye movements disrupt spatial but not visual mental imagery

Stefania de Vito, Antimo Buonocore, Jean-François Bonnefon, Sergio Della Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has long been known that eye movements are functionally involved in the generation and maintenance of mental images. Indeed, a number of studies demonstrated that voluntary eye movements interfere with mental imagery tasks (e.g., Laeng and Teodorescu in Cogn Sci 26:207-231, 2002). However, mental imagery is conceived as a multifarious cognitive function with at least two components, a spatial component and a visual component. The present study investigated the question of whether eye movements disrupt mental imagery in general or only its spatial component. We present data on healthy young adults, who performed visual and spatial imagery tasks concurrently with a smooth pursuit. In line with previous literature, results revealed that eye movements had a strong disruptive effect on spatial imagery. Moreover, we crucially demonstrated that eye movements had no disruptive effect when participants visualized the depictive aspects of an object. Therefore, we suggest that eye movements serve to a greater extent the spatial than the visual component of mental imagery.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Processing
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2014


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