Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Neglect is known to produce a bias towards the ipsilesional side. Here we examined whether this bias is automatic or can be modulated by manipulating perceptual load in a relevant task [e.g., Lavie, N. (1995). Perceptual load as a necessary condition for selective attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 21, 451–468]. Three patients with left neglect and three healthy controls made speeded choice responses to a target letter in the center of the display while attempting to ignore an irrelevant distractor presented on left or right. Perceptual load was manipulated by inducing a search for the target that appeared with another central stimulus, which was either a blob (low load) or a nontarget letter (higher load). Response competition effects from ipsilesional distractors were significantly reduced by higher load. The same increase of load, however, did not decrease distractor effects in the control group, as expected [e.g., Lavie, N., & Cox, S. (1997). On the efficiency of attentional selection: Efficient visual search results in inefficient rejection of distraction. Psychological Science, 8, 395-398]. These results demonstrate that ipsilesional bias in neglect is not fully automated and emphasize an additional restriction of perceptual capacity. Moreover, they supported our prediction that reduced perceptual capacity in neglect can lead to improved distractor rejection with just small increases in perceptual load.