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Journal Article

Exploring the visual world: The neural substrate of spatial orienting

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Himmelbach, M., Erb, M., & Karnath, H.-O. (2006). Exploring the visual world: The neural substrate of spatial orienting. NeuroImage, 32(4), 1747-1759. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.04.221.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-4C7E-B
Inspecting the visual environment, humans typically direct their attention across space by means of voluntary saccadic eye movements. Neuroimaging studies in healthy subjects have identified the superior parietal cortex and intraparietal sulcus as important structures involved in visual search. However, in apparent contrast, spatial disturbance of free exploration typically is observed after damage of brain structures located far more ventrally. Lesion studies in such patients disclosed the inferior parietal lobule (IPL) and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), the superior temporal gyrus (STG) and insula, as well as the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) of the right hemisphere. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the involvement of these areas in active visual exploration in the intact brain. We conducted a region of interest analysis comparing free visual exploration of a dense stimulus array with the execution of stepwise horizontal and vertical saccades. The comparison of BOLD responses revealed significant signal increases during exploration in TPJ, STG, and IFG. This result calls for a reappraisal of the previous thinking on the function of these areas in visual search processes. In agreement with lesion studies, the data suggest that these areas are part of the network involved in human spatial orienting and exploration. The IPL dorsally of TPJ seem to be of minor importance for free visual exploration as these areas appear to be equally involved in the execution of spatially predetermined saccades.