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Visual discrimination of target displacement remains after damage to the striate cortex in humans

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Damage to the striate cortex usually causes blindness in those regions of the visual field which map to the area of neural damage. Nonetheless, there are reports that some patients with such damage can localize and perform certain visual discriminations between light stimuli presented within the 'blind' area of the visual field. Experiments on animals with different brain areas ablated suggest that visual function is served by two principal projection pathways from the retina7,8. That to the striate cortex is primarily responsible for fine discrimination between stimulus parameters such as colour and spatial pattern, whereas that to the superior colliculus in the midbrain is responsible for visual localization of stimuli. The residual visual functions in patients with cortical damage are usually attributed to the non-striate retinal projection to the superior colliculus. We now present measurements of spatial discrimination in two observers with large visual field defects (scotomata) caused by damage to the striate cortical region. Both exhibit a near normal ability to discriminate displacements of targets when two lights are flashed sequentially in their defective visual field, but they are unable to discriminate spatial pattern or size. We argue that these results are consistent with the 'two visual systems' interpretation of ablation studies on non-human species.

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