Looking while imagining: The influence of visual input on representational neglect

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Abstract

Background:

Subjects with hemispatial neglect often exhibit representational neglect: a failure to report details from the left side of mentally visualized images. This failure could reflect impaired ability to generate the left side of the mental image, or it could reflect failure to explore the left side of a normally generated mental image. When subjects with hemispatial neglect look at pictures or drawings, their attention tends to be drawn to objects on the right side, thereby aggravating their failure to explore the left side. If representational neglect represents a failure to explore the left side of a normally generated mental visual image, then it should be improved by blindfolding, which removes the attention-catching right-sided stimuli. However, if representational neglect represents a failure to generate the left side of the mental visual image, then blindfolding should have little impact on reporting of details of the image.

Methods:

To determine which of these explanations is correct, we asked eight normal participants and eight brain-damaged patients with left representational neglect to imagine the map of France and to name as many towns as possible in 2 minutes. In different sessions, participants performed the task with eyes open or while blindfolded.

Results:

Normal participants mentioned more towns while blindfolded than with vision, thus suggesting a distracting effect of visual details on mental imagery. Patients with neglect, however, showed no appreciable effect of blindfolding on reporting of details from either side of mental images.

Conclusion:

Representational neglect may represent a failure to generate the left side of mental images.

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