Helmholtz lecture Rob McIntosh, January 28: (Re)discovering the core character of spatial neglect (remote)
Abstract: The neuropsychological syndrome of spatial neglect, which follows right hemisphere stroke, is often considered to reflect a lateral bias of spatial attention, with an overall depletion of attentional resources. A traditional task for the diagnosis and study of neglect is line bisection, which requires the person to mark the middle of a horizontal line. The deviation from the true midpoint is widely taken as an index of attentional bias, both in patients with neglect (who are biased strongly to the right), and in healthy participants (who are biased slightly to the left). However, the task also throws up anomalous observations, which are much harder to explain, and which have led to the suggestion that line bisection is not a valid measure of neglect at all. I will describe a radical reconceptualisation of this simple task, which can reconcile these apparent anomalies. I will present neuropsychological data, which show that – if cast in the right way – it is an exquisitely sensitive task, tapping into the core character of neglect. I will also show that this same method can be fruitfully extended to the study of attentional biases in the healthy brain.
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