Words and hemifields: Do the hemispheres enjoy equal opportunity?

Kim Kirsner*, Steven Schwartz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


A common technique in research into cerebral asymmetry in both normal and clinical populations involves the use of lateralized visual displays. The validity of this approach depends on several generally implicit assumptions about the character of the cognitive processes involved. For example, when words are used as stimuli, cognitive processing is assumed to involve either "whole-word" or "ends-in" analysis. In this way, both hemispheres are assumed to have equal opportunities to recognize the word. These assumptions are critical, because if they are wrong, explanations based on established perceptual principles may provide a sufficient and more parsimonious explanation for hemifield asymmetries than hemispheric specialization theories. This point is developed and illustrated with particular reference to word recognition and classification. From a purely perceptual viewpoint, the right visual field advantage observed in tasks using word stimuli is to be expected given (a) the presence of systematic biases in favor of initial characters or features of words and (b) the relationship between retinal eccentricity and visual acuity. In other words, there is no need nor justification for a hemispheric account of visual field differences in such tasks. Some of the limiting conditions and theoretical implications of this argument are identified and discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-361
Number of pages8
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1986
Externally publishedYes


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