Visual search in Alzheimer's disease: A deficiency in processing conjunctions of features
Tales, A., Butler, S. R., Fossey, J., Gilchrist, I. D., Jones, R. and Troscianko, T. (2002) Visual search in Alzheimer's disease: A deficiency in processing conjunctions of features. Neuropsychologia, 40 (12). pp. 1849-1857. ISSN 0028-3932
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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0028-3932(02)00073-8
Human vision often needs to encode multiple characteristics of many elements of the visual field, for example their lightness and orientation. The paradigm of visual search allows a quantitative assessment of the function of the underlying mechanisms. It measures the ability to detect a target element among a set of distractor elements. We asked whether Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients are particularly affected in one type of search, where the target is defined by a conjunction of features (orientation and lightness) and where performance depends on some shifting of attention. Two non-conjunction control conditions were employed. The first was a pre-attentive, single-feature, “pop-out” task, detecting a vertical target among horizontal distractors. The second was a single-feature, partly attentive task in which the target element was slightly larger than the distractors—a “size” task. This was chosen to have a similar level of attentional load as the conjunction task (for the control group), but lacked the conjunction of two features. In an experiment, 15 AD patients were compared to age-matched controls. The results suggested that AD patients have a particular impairment in the conjunction task but not in the single-feature size or pre-attentive tasks. This may imply that AD particularly affects those mechanisms which compare across more than one feature type, and spares the other systems and is not therefore simply an ‘attention-related’ impairment. Additionally, these findings show a double dissociation with previous data on visual search in Parkinson’s disease (PD), suggesting a different effect of these diseases on the visual pathway.