Can semantic information be transferred between hemispheres in the split-brain?

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Abstract

Data from experiments with split-brain patients, who have had their left and right hemispheres disconnected, suggests a remarkable specialization of function within each hemisphere. At the same time, these patients conduct their daily lives with great proficiency. This ability suggests that some information integral to coordinated function between the hemispheres is available in the absence of the corpus callosum. Is information about the semantics of words one type of information that is shared? An experiment by Lambert (1991) suggests that it may be. Lambert reported that living/nonliving word categorization was delayed when disconnected hemispheres processed words belonging to the same category. Although other interpretations are plausible, Lambert described this effect as having a semantic source. We attempted to replicate the original effect with two additional split-brain patients, J.W. and V.P., and to extend the original design to clarify the source of the putative semantic effect. Our results indicate that any semantic interaction between the split hemispheres is not reliable. As such our study adds to the growing literature indicating that subcortical transfer of semantic information is more illusory than real.

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