Royal Society Publishing


The spatial character of our reaching movements is extremely sensitive to potential obstacles in the workspace. We recently found that this sensitivity was retained by most patients with left visual neglect when reaching between two objects, despite the fact that they tended to ignore the leftward object when asked to bisect the space between them. This raises the possibility that obstacle avoidance does not require a conscious awareness of the obstacle avoided. We have now tested this hypothesis in a patient with visual extinction following right temporoparietal damage. Extinction is an attentional disorder in which patients fail to report stimuli on the side of space opposite a brain lesion under conditions of bilateral stimulation. Our patient avoided obstacles during reaching, to exactly the same degree, regardless of whether he was able to report their presence. This implicit processing of object location, which may depend on spared superior parietal‐lobe pathways, demonstrates that conscious awareness is not necessary for normal obstacle avoidance.

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