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Neuropsychologia. 2009 Jan;47(1):91-103. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.08.020. Epub 2008 Aug 26.

Task-related modulation of visual neglect in cancellation tasks.

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  • 1UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK.


Unilateral neglect involves deficits of spatial exploration and awareness that do not always affect a fixed portion of extrapersonal space, but may vary with current stimulation and possibly with task demands. Here, we assessed any 'top-down', task-related influences on visual neglect, with novel experimental variants of the cancellation test. Many different versions of the cancellation test are used clinically, and can differ in the extent of neglect revealed, though the exact factors determining this are not fully understood. Few cancellation studies have isolated the influence of top-down factors, as typically the stimuli are changed also when comparing different tests. Within each of three cancellation studies here, we manipulated task factors, while keeping visual displays identical across conditions to equate purely bottom-up factors. Our results show that top-down task demands can significantly modulate neglect as revealed by cancellation on the same displays. Varying the target/non-target discrimination required for identical displays has a significant impact. Varying the judgement required can also have an impact on neglect even when all items are targets, so that non-targets no longer need filtering out. Requiring local versus global aspects of shape to be judged for the same displays also has a substantial impact, but the nature of discrimination required by the task still matters even when local/global level is held constant (e.g. for different colour discriminations on the same stimuli). Finally, an exploratory analysis of lesions among our neglect patients suggested that top-down task-related influences on neglect, as revealed by the new cancellation experiments here, might potentially depend on right superior temporal gyrus surviving the lesion.

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