Up to 2002

Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Curr Biol. 1999 Dec 2;9(23):1419-22

Unconscious letter discrimination is enhanced by association with conscious color perception in visual form agnosia

Adaptive behavior guided by unconscious visual cues occurs in patients with various kinds of brain damage as well as in normal observers, all of whom can process visual information of which they are fully unaware [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]. Little is known on the possibility that unconscious vision is influenced by visual cues that have access to consciousness [9]. Here we report a 'blind' letter discrimination induced through a semantic interaction with conscious color processing in a patient who is agnosic for visual shapes, but has normal color vision and visual imagery. In seeing the initial letters of color names printed in different colors, it is normally easier to name the print color when it is congruent with the initial letter of the color name than when it is not [10]. The patient could discriminate the initial letters of the words 'red' and 'green' printed in the corresponding colors significantly above chance but without any conscious accompaniment, whereas he performed at chance with the reverse color-letter mapping as well as in standard tests of letter reading. We suggest that the consciously perceived colors activated a representation of the corresponding word names and their component letters, which in turn brought out a partially successful, unconscious processing of visual inputs corresponding to the activated letter representations.

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