Orienting attention in aging and Parkinson’s disease: distinguishing modes of control.


Past research on attentional orienting and Parkinson's disease (PD) has been compromised because the experimental paradigms tended to confound different forms of orienting. We sought to overcome this by examining the attentional orienting of three distinct groups (PD-patients, age-matched controls, and young controls) on five different tasks, four of which isolated pure forms of orienting. On two covert orienting tasks PD patients oriented volitional (Experiment 1) and reflexive (Experiment 2) covert attention in a healthy and normal manner for their age. On two overt orienting tasks, PD patients were found to execute volitional eye movements that were prone to undershoot their target goal (Experiment 3), and reflexive eye movements that were unusually fast (Experiment 4). When required to perform an antisaccade task (Experiment 5), which combines reflexive and volitional modes of overt orienting, PD patients performed normally. This indicates that using a task which combines different modes of orienting creates a situation that is more than the sum of its parts. Together our study supports the thesis that it is crucial to isolate and investigate different modes of attentional control.