Patients with visual associative agnosia have a particular difficulty in identifying visually presented living things (plants and animals) as opposed to nonliving things. It has been claimed that this effect cannot be explained by differences in the inherent visual discriminability of living and nonliving things. To test this claim further, we performed two experiments with normal subjects. In Experiment 1 normal human observers were asked to identify objects in tachistoscopically presented line drawings. They made more errors with living things than with nonliving things. In Experiment 2 normal monkeys learned to discriminate among the same line drawings for food reward. They made many more errors in discriminating among living things than nonliving things. Agnosic patients' responses to the same line drawings were made available to us for correlative analysis with the subjects' responses to these drawings in Experiments 1 and 2. We conclude that a category-specific visual agnosia for living things can arise as a consequence of a modality-specific but not category-specific impairment in visual representation, since living things are more similar to each other visually than nonliving things are.

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