Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Can visual processing be carried out without visual awareness of the presented objects? In the present study we addressed this problem in patients with severe unilateral neglect. The patients were required to respond as fast as possible to target stimuli (pictures of animals and fruits) presented to the normal field by pressing one of the two keys according to the category of the targets. We then studied the influence of priming stimuli, again pictures of animals or fruits, presented to the neglected field on the responses to targets. By combining different pairs of primes and targets, three different experimental conditions were obtained. In the first condition, "Highly congruent," the target and prime stimuli belonged to the same category and were physically identical; in the second condition, "Congruent," the stimuli represented two elements of the same category but were physically dissimilar; in the third condition, "Noncongruent," the stimuli represented one exemplar from each of the two categories of stimuli. The results showed that the responses were facilitated not only in the Highly congruent condition, but also in the Congruent one. This finding suggests that patients with neglect are able to process stimuli presented to the neglected field to a categorical level of representation even when they deny the stimulus presence in the affected field. The implications of this finding for psychological and physiological theory of neglect and visual cognition are discussed.