We studied the visual field distribution of speed and accuracy of manual responses to small brief light flashes, in patients with left hemineglect or extinction resulting from right hemisphere vascular lesions and in brain-damaged and healthy control subjects. All patients with right hemisphere lesions showed a greater impairment in both the speed of response and the detection rate in the contralesional than in the ipsilesional hemifield. This interfield difference increased with the eccentricity of stimulus presentation and was especially pronounced in neglect patients who showed a paradoxical increase in speed of response and detection rate at increasingly larger eccentricities in the ipsilesional hemifield. We hypothesize that both the contralesional slowing down and the ipsilesional speeding up of the response depends upon an exaggerated gradient of attention towards the ipsilesional hemifield. To assess whether these abnormalities concern automatic or controlled attentional processes, in a second experiment, we manipulated the predictability of the side of the stimulus presentation by using blocked rather than randomized stimulus presentations. This resulted in a speeding up of responses in both hemifields thus showing that the patients were able to focus attention to the side of stimulus presentation voluntarily. However, there was no modification of the contra-ipsilesional differences which, therefore, are likely to be related to abnormal automatic processes rather than controlled attention.
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