Abstract

The topic of spatial attention is of great relevance for researchers in various fields, including neuropsychology, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, as well as for clinical practice. Deficits of spatial attentional arising from parietal brain damage remain largely confined to the left visual field. The mechanisms underlying this hemispheric asymmetry are still elusive. We mimicked the neuropsychological syndrome of contralesional extinction by temporarily inducing a spatial attentional bias in healthy volunteers with TMS. We investigated whether directing covert spatial attention could enhance or, more importantly, counteract the resulting behavioral deficits. Although both the left and right parietal TMS induced contralateral extinction, only left hemifield extinction following right parietal TMS was severely aggravated by a competing stimulus in the ipsilesional (right) hemifield. We put forward the hypothesis that an asymmetry with respect to the ability of detaching attention from a distractor is contributing to the right hemispheric lateralization with regard to extinction. On a broader level, we suggest that “virtual patients” might be used for evaluating neuropsychological treatment in an early stage of development, reducing the burden on actual patients.

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