Implicit short-lived motor representations of space in brain damaged and healthy subjects

Consciousness and Cognition 7 (3):520-558 (1998)
Abstract
This article reviews experimental evidence for a specific sensorimotor function which can be dissociated from higher level representations of space. It attempts to delineate this function on the basis of results obtained by psychophysical experiments performed with brain damaged and healthy subjects. Eye and hand movement control exhibit automatic features, such that they are incompatible with conscious control. In addition, they rely on a reference frame different from the one used by conscious perception. Neuropsychological cases provide a strong support for this specific motor representation of space, which can be spared in patients with lesions of primary sensory systems who have lost conscious perception of visual, tactile or proprioceptive stimuli. Observation of these patients also showed that their motor behavior can be ''attracted'' by a goal only under specific conditions, that is, when the response is immediate and when no cognitive representation of this goal is elaborated at the same time. Beyond the issue of the dissociation between an implicit motor representation and more cognitive processing of spatial information, the issue of the interaction between these two systems is thus a matter of interest. It is suggested that the conscious, cognitive representation of a stimulus can contaminate or override the short-lived motor representation, but no reciprocal influence seem to occur. The interaction observed in patients can also be investigated in normals. The literature provides examples of interaction between sensorimotor and cognitive framing of space, which confirm that immediate action is not mediated by the same system as delayed action, and that elaborating a categorial representation of the action goal prevents the expression of the short-lived sensorimotor representation. It is concluded that action can be controlled by a sensory system which is specialized for on-line processing of relevant goal characteristics. The temporal constraints of this system are such that it can affect the action before a full sensory analysis of this goal has been completed. The performance obtained on the basis of this spatial sensory processing suggests that short-lived motor representations may rather be considered as real ''presentation'' of the action world, which share its metric properties.
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