The role of local and global processing in the recognition of living and nonliving things

Richard Thomas, Emer Forde
Neuropsychologia 2006, 44 (6): 982-6
We report a study on a patient (DW) with integrative visual agnosia and a category-specific recognition impairment for living things. We assessed DW's local and global processing and tested if his integrative agnosia could have led directly to his category-specific impairment. The main findings were: (i) DW was faster at identifying local compared to global letters. (ii) DW showed no local-to-global (or global-to-local) interference effects in selective attention tasks. (iii) DW showed a congruency effect in a divided attention task, suggesting that, when his attention was cued to both levels, he could process information simultaneously and integrate local and global information. (iv) Controls were poorer at naming nonliving compared to living things when presented with silhouettes. These data suggest that local and global information are differentially weighted in the visual recognition of living and nonliving things, and that an impairment in processing the overall shape of an object can lead to a category-specific deficit for living things. Crucially, this implies that category-specific impairments do not necessarily reflect damage to the semantic system, and models of semantic memory based on this assumption need to be revised.

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