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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 1997, Vol. 9, No. 2, Pages 191-202
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.1997.9.2.191)
© 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Residual Vision in Multiple Retinal Locations within a Scotoma: Implications for Blindsight
Article PDF (1.05 MB)

There is an important new proposal that “blindsight”-the ability to detect and identify visual stimuli by forcedchoice guessing and in the absence of conscious awareness when they fall in blind regions of the visual field—is a function of residual “islands” of undamaged visual cortex. This stands in contrast to the widely accepted view that blindsight is exclusively a function of secondary visual pathways. According to the new view, residual vision in blindsight should be patchy. Thus, when apparently wide areas of residual vision in blindsight are found, these may be due to eye-movements that allow stimuli to pass over retinal locations corresponding to islands of sparing. We tested this hypothesis by examining the distribution of residual vision in blindsight when the effects of eye movements on the retinal location of stimuli were minimized. We report a series of experiments that examined twealternate forcedchoice discrimination in the blind field of the subject GY. Using a dual-Purkinje image eye-tracker we applied three methods of minimizing the effects of retinal slippage due to eye-movements on discrimination performance: fixation stability-dependent trials, software image stabilization, and post hoc rejection of trials in which saccadic eye-movements were detected. In the first experiment, GY's discrimination performance was significantly above chance in 8 of 15 locations tested. In the subsequent experiments the subject knew the location of the target in each block of trials, and this resulted in improvements to performance in a further three locations. Increasing the luminance of the stimulus display (while maintaining 95% target contrast), and increasing the temporal discriminability of the forced choice produced performance above chance in all but two of the locations tested. The consistent chance performance observed in two locations in the lower visual field nevertheless implies that GY's blindsight does not extend over the whole of his scotoma. Nevertheless, abolishing, or minimizing, the effects of eye-movements did not result in a loss of detection in all the widely separated regions tested, and we thus conclude that GY's blindsight cannot adequately be explained in terms of islands of spared vision. Islands may account for residual vision in scotomata in some patients, but cannot be a universal account of the phenomenon of blindsight.