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Curr Biol. 2012 Aug 7;22(15):1429-34. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.05.046. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Residual attention guidance in blindsight monkeys watching complex natural scenes.

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Department of Developmental Physiology, National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Okazaki 444-8585, Japan.


Patients with damage to primary visual cortex (V1) demonstrate residual performance on laboratory visual tasks despite denial of conscious seeing (blindsight) [1]. After a period of recovery, which suggests a role for plasticity [2], visual sensitivity higher than chance is observed in humans and monkeys for simple luminance-defined stimuli, grating stimuli, moving gratings, and other stimuli [3-7]. Some residual cognitive processes including bottom-up attention and spatial memory have also been demonstrated [8-10]. To date, little is known about blindsight with natural stimuli and spontaneous visual behavior. In particular, is orienting attention toward salient stimuli during free viewing still possible? We used a computational saliency map model to analyze spontaneous eye movements of monkeys with blindsight from unilateral ablation of V1. Despite general deficits in gaze allocation, monkeys were significantly attracted to salient stimuli. The contribution of orientation features to salience was nearly abolished, whereas contributions of motion, intensity, and color features were preserved. Control experiments employing laboratory stimuli confirmed the free-viewing finding that lesioned monkeys retained color sensitivity. Our results show that attention guidance over complex natural scenes is preserved in the absence of V1, thereby directly challenging theories and models that crucially depend on V1 to compute the low-level visual features that guide attention.

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