Global shape recognition is modulated by the spatial distance of local elements—evidence from simultanagnosia

Elisabeth Huberle, Hans-Otto Karnath
Neuropsychologia 2006, 44 (6): 905-11
Simultanagnosia is a rare deficit that impairs individuals in perceiving several objects at the same time. It is usually observed following bilateral parieto-occipital brain damage. Despite the restrictions in perceiving the global aspect of a scene, processing of individual objects remains unaffected. The mechanisms underlying simultanagnosia are not well understood. Previous findings indicated that the integration of multiple objects into a holistic representation of the environment is not impossible per se, but might depend on the spatial relationship between individual objects. The present study examined the influence of inter-element distances between individual objects on the recognition of global shapes in two patients with simultanagnosia. We presented Navon hierarchical letter stimuli with different inter-element distances between letters at the Local Scale. Improved recognition at the Global Scale was observed in both patients by reducing the inter-element distance. Global shape recognition in simultanagnosia thus seems to be modulated by the spatial distance of local elements and does not appear to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon depending on spatial continuity. The findings seem to argue against a deficit in visual working memory capacity as the primary deficit in simultanagnosia. However, further research is necessary to investigate alternative interpretations.

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