Experiencing simultanagnosia through windowed viewing of complex social scenes

Kirsten A. Dalrymple, Elina Birmingham, Walter F. Bischof, Jason J.S. Barton, Alan Kingstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Simultanagnosia is a disorder of visual attention, defined as an inability to see more than one object at once. It has been conceived as being due to a constriction of the visual "window" of attention, a metaphor that we examine in the present article. A simultanagnosic patient (SL) and two non-simultanagnosic control patients (KC and ES) described social scenes while their eye movements were monitored. These data were compared to a group of healthy subjects who described the same scenes under the same conditions as the patients, or through an aperture that restricted their vision to a small portion of the scene. Experiment 1 demonstrated that SL showed unusually low proportions of fixations to the eyes in social scenes, which contrasted with all other participants who demonstrated the standard preferential bias toward eyes. Experiments 2 and 3 revealed that when healthy participants viewed scenes through a window that was contingent on where they looked (Experiment 2) or where they moved a computer mouse (Experiment 3), their behavior closely mirrored that of patient SL. These findings suggest that a constricted window of visual processing has important consequences for how simultanagnosic patients explore their world. Our paradigm's capacity to mimic simultanagnosic behaviors while viewing complex scenes implies that it may be a valid way of modeling simultanagnosia in healthy individuals, providing a useful tool for future research. More broadly, our results support the thesis that people fixate the eyes in social scenes because they are informative to the meaning of the scene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-277
Number of pages13
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Jan 7 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
K.A.D. and E.B. were supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) . A.K. was supported by NSERC, a MSFHR Senior Scholar award, the Human Early Learning Partnership, and the Hampton Foundation . J.J.S.B. was supported by a Canada Research Chair and MSFHR Senior Scholarship. W.F.B. was supported by NSERC. Thank you to S.L., ES, and KC, for their time and dedication to this project.

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Attention
  • Gaze-contingent
  • Simultanagnosia
  • Social scene perception


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