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Ettlinger revisited: the relation between agnosia and sensory impairment.
  1. E H De Haan,
  2. C A Heywood,
  3. A W Young,
  4. N Edelstyn,
  5. F Newcombe
  1. Russell-Cairns Unit, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, UK.


    The concept of agnosia as a higher order functional impairment, which can occur in the absence of low level visual perceptual deficits, continues to provoke debate. This controversy is complicated by the fact that, on close examination, agnosic patients do tend to have some perceptual difficulties. Thus the issue centres around the question as to whether these deficits play a causal part in the aetiology of agnosia or whether they are functionally independent, with both impairments resulting from the substantial cerebral lesions involved in agnosia. In 1956, Ettlinger published a study in which he compared the performance of patients with visual recognition deficits and patients with posterior brain lesions whose recognition abilities were intact. He argued that visual perceptual problems could not explain the recognition deficit in agnosia as he saw far worse perceptual impairments in patients who did not experience any problems in visual recognition. Although the logic of Ettlinger's argument is not disputed, some criticisms have arisen concerning the study, such as the fact that his experimental group did not include a truly object agnosic patient. In addition, Ettlinger's visual-sensory assessment can no longer be considered comprehensive in the light of present day knowledge of the cerebral visual apparatus. This study therefore investigated three (prosop)agnosic patients and five patients with unilateral brain lesions without recognition deficits on an extensive battery of visual sensory tests. The results support Ettlinger's original claim that (in some cases) agnosia cannot be explained as resulting from lower level visual impairments.

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