Journal article Open Access

Multiple Representations Contribute to Body Knowledge Processing: Evidence From a Case of Autotopagnosia

Sirigu, Angela; Grafman, Jordan; Bressler, Karen; Sunderland, Trey

Body schema disturbances were studied in a 62-yr-old woman with Alzheimer's disease. She was severely impaired in verbal and nonverbal tasks requiring her to localize body parts (on her own body, the examiner's body or a doll's body) even though she correctly named the same parts when pointed at by the examiner. Pointing responses were misdirected mainly to parts contiguous with the target area and, to a lesser extent, to functionally equivalent body parts. We also found that the patient was able to define body part names functionally but not spatially. In another series of tasks, and in contrast to the above results, performances were normal when small objects, attached to the patient's body, served as pointing targets. Furthermore, on subsequent testing she pointed correctly at the remembered position of these objects. The fact that the same point in 'body space' is localized correctly when it corresponds to an external object and erroneously when it corresponds to a body part contradicts the idea of the body schema as a unitary function. Learning the position of objects on the body surface requires access to some form of body-reference system on which this information can be mapped. We argue that such a system can be available in autotopagnosia and is independent from the visuospatial representations of the body structure that are postulated to be damaged or inaccessible in this syndrome. An integrated account of the present results and of those reported by other authors suggests that multiple levels of representation (e.g., sensorimotor, visuospatial, semantic) are involved in the organization of body knowledge.

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