Transcranial magnetic stimulation to the occipital place area biases gaze during scene viewing

George Malcolm (Lead Author), Edward H. Silson, Jennifer R. Henry, Chris I. Baker

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We can understand viewed scenes and extract task-relevant information within a few hundred milliseconds. This process is generally supported by three cortical regions that show selectivity for scene images: parahippocampal place area (PPA), medial place area (MPA) and occipital place area (OPA). Prior studies have focused on the visual information each region is responsive to, usually within the context of recognition or navigation. Here, we move beyond these tasks to investigate gaze allocation during scene viewing. Eye movements rely on a scene’s visual representation to direct saccades, and thus foveal vision. In particular, we focus on the contribution of OPA, which is i) located in occipito-parietal cortex, likely feeding information into parts of the dorsal pathway critical for eye movements, and ii) contains strong retinotopic representations of the contralateral visual field. Participants viewed scene images for 1034 ms while their eye movements were recorded. On half of the trials, a 500 ms train of five transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulses was applied to the participant’s cortex, starting at scene onset. TMS was applied to the right hemisphere over either OPA or the occipital face area (OFA), which also exhibits a contralateral visual field bias but shows selectivity for face stimuli. Participants generally made an overall left-to-right, top-to-bottom pattern of eye movements across all conditions. When TMS was applied to OPA, there was an increased saccade latency for eye movements toward the contralateral relative to the ipsilateral visual field after the final TMS pulse (400ms). Additionally, TMS to the OPA biased fixation positions away from the contralateral side of the scene compared to the control condition, while the OFA group showed no such effect. There was no effect on horizontal saccade amplitudes. These combined results suggest that OPA might serve to represent local scene information that can then be utilized by visuomotor control networks to guide gaze allocation in natural scenes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number189
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2018

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