Time to imagine space: a chronometric exploration of representational neglect.Neuropsychologia. 2005; 43(9):1249-57.N
When describing known places from memory, patients with left spatial neglect may mention more right- than left-sided items, thus showing representational, or imaginal, neglect. This suggests that these patients cannot either build or explore left locations in visual mental imagery. However, in place description there is no guarantee that patients are really employing visual mental imagery abilities, rather than verbal-propositional knowledge. Thus, patients providing symmetrical descriptions might be using other strategies than visual mental imagery. To address this issue, we devised a new test which strongly encourages the use of visual mental imagery. Twelve participants without brain damage and 12 right brain-damaged patients, of whom 7 had visual neglect, were invited to conjure up a visual mental image of the map of France. They subsequently had to state by pressing a left- or a right-sided key whether auditorily presented towns or regions were situated to the left or right of Paris on the imagined map. This provided measures of response time and accuracy for imagined locations. A further task, devised to assess response bias, used the words "left" or "right" as stimuli and the same keypress responses. Controls and non-neglect patients performed symmetrically. Neglect patients were slower for left than for right imagined locations. On single-case analysis, two patients with visual neglect had a greater response time asymmetry on the geographical task than predicted by the response bias task, but with symmetrical accuracy. The dissociation between response times and accuracy suggests that, in these patients, the left side of the mental map of space was not lost, but only "explored" less efficiently.