Dalrymple, K. A., Birmingham, E., Bischof, W. F., Barton, J. J. S., and Kingstone, A. (2011). Experiencing simultanagnosia through windowed viewing of complex social scenes. Brain Research, 1367, 265-277.
Simultanagnosia is a disorder of visual attention, defined as an inability to see more than one object at once. It has been conceived as being due to a constriction of the visual window of attention, a metaphor that we examine in the present article. A simultanagnosic patient (SL) and two non-simultanagnosic control patients (KC and ES) described social scenes while their eye movements were monitored. These data were compared to a group of healthy subjects who described the same scenes under the same conditions as the patients, or through an aperture that restricted their vision to a small portion of the scene. Experiment 1 demonstrated that SL showed unusually low proportions of fixations to the eyes in social scenes, which contrasted with all other participants who demonstrated the standard preferential bias toward eyes. Experiments 2 and 3 revealed that when healthy participants viewed scenes through a window that was contingent on where they looked (Experiment 2) or where they moved a computer mouse (Experiment 3), their behavior closely mirrored that of patient SL. These findings suggest that a constricted window of visual processing has important consequences for how simultanagnosic patients explore their world. Our paradigm's capacity to mimic simultanagnosic behaviors while viewing complex scenes implies that it may be a valid way of modeling simultanagnosia in healthy individuals, providing a useful tool for future research. More broadly, our results support the thesis that people fixate the eyes in social scenes because they are informative to the meaning of the scene.
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