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Parietal neglect and visual awareness

Abstract

The last decade has seen a resurgence of interest in the neural correlates of conscious vision, with most discussion focused on the 'blindsight' that can follow damage to primary visual cortex, in the occipital lobe. We suggest that new insights into the neural basis of visual awareness may be gleaned from a different neuropsychological phenomenon, namely visual 'neglect' after injury to regions in the parietal lobe. Neglect provides several revealing contrasts with occipital blindsight. Here we summarise four key findings. First, unlike the deficits caused by damage to primary visual cortex, the loss of awareness in parietal neglect is characteristically not strictly retinotopic. Second, visual segmentation processes are preserved in neglect, and can influence what will reach the patient's awareness. Third, extensive unconscious processing takes place for those stimuli on the neglected side which escape awareness, including some degree of object identification. Finally, parietal damage affects initial stages of motor planning as well as perception. These findings are consistent with recent data on single-cell activity in the monkey brain. They also suggest why areas in the inferior parietal lobe may play a prominent role in visual awareness.

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Figure 1: Lateral view of the right hemisphere of the human brain, illustrating the parietal lesion commonly associated with left neglect1,2.
Figure 2: (a) and (b) each show an example display from Driver et al.18.
Figure 3: Example display sequences from Mattingley et al. 25, with arrows indicating time.
Figure 4: Example display sequences from McGlinchey-Berroth et al.30, with arrows indicating time.
Figure 5: Schematic illustration of Mattingley et al.'s study39 of motor deficits in neglect.

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Acknowledgements

JD was supported by the MRC (UK), the Wellcome Trust, and the Stroke Association. JBM was supported by an NHMRC (Australia) Neil Hamilton Fairley Fellowship, and by AMRAD Australia. We thank Greg Davis, Masud Husain, Nilli Lavie, Marie-Thérèse Perenin, Alex Pouget, Yves Rossetti, and Srimant Tripathy for helpful comments; and Geraint Rees plus the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology for Fig 1 .

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Driver, J., Mattingley, J. Parietal neglect and visual awareness. Nat Neurosci 1, 17–22 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/217

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