Abstract The presaccadic negativity (PSN) of the scalp EEG potential prior to self-initiated saccades aimed either at a visual target or at the remembered position of that target in total darkness was analysed in 10 normal subjects. Under both conditions a PSN with a negligible EOG contamination was found, showing 4 characteristics: (1) In both conditions, the PSN maximum is localized at the vertex, probably containing the activity of the supplementary motor area. (2) At an electrode placed over the frontal eye field (FEF) contralateral to the saccade direction, there is a temporary, circumscribed maximum prior to saccades to the visual target, thus probably reflecting activity of the FEF. (3) Prior to saccades to the visual target, there is a statistically significant interhemispheric difference of the PSN over the parietal cortex with a larger amplitude over the hemisphere contralateral to the saccade dirextion; this might be attributed to directed visual attention. (4) Prior to saccades without visual guidance in darkness there is a statistically significant interhemispheric difference of the PSN over the frontal cortex with a larger amplitude over the hemisphere contralateral to the saccade direction. The amplitude of the PSN decreased in the course of the experiment, probably due to psychological factors such as attention and motivation. Our results that the PSN is a readiness potential preceding voluntary saccades, containing activity related both to unspecific psychological processes and to specific movement preparation in the forntal and parietal ocular motor areas.