The influence of visual and phonological features on the hemispheric processing of hierarchical Navon letters

Marilena Aiello, Sheila Merola, Stefano Lasaponara, Mario Pinto, Francesco Tomaiuolo, Fabrizio Doricchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The possibility of allocating attentional resources to the "global" shape or to the "local" details of pictorial stimuli helps visual processing. Investigations with hierarchical Navon letters, that are large "global" letters made up of small "local" ones, consistently demonstrate a right hemisphere advantage for global processing and a left hemisphere advantage for local processing. Here we investigated how the visual and phonological features of the global and local components of Navon letters influence these hemispheric advantages. In a first study in healthy participants, we contrasted the hemispheric processing of hierarchical letters with global and local items competing for response selection, to the processing of hierarchical letters in which a letter, a false-letter conveying no phonological information or a geometrical shape presented at the unattended level did not compete for response selection. In a second study, we investigated the hemispheric processing of hierarchical stimuli in which global and local letters were both visually and phonologically congruent (e.g. large uppercase G made of smaller uppercase G), visually incongruent and phonologically congruent (e.g. large uppercase G made of small lowercase g) or visually incongruent and phonologically incongruent (e.g. large uppercase G made of small lowercase or uppercase M). In a third study, we administered the same tasks to a right brain damaged patient with a lesion involving pre-striate areas engaged by global processing. The results of the first two experiments showed that the global abilities of the left hemisphere are limited because of its strong susceptibility to interference from local letters even when these are irrelevant to the task. Phonological features played a crucial role in this interference because the interference was entirely maintained also when letters at the global and local level were presented in different uppercase vs. lowercase formats. In contrast, when local features conveyed no phonological information, the left hemisphere showed preserved global processing abilities. These findings were supported by the study of the right brain damaged patient. These results offer a new look at the hemispheric dominance in the attentional processing of the global and local levels of hierarchical stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-85
Number of pages11
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume109
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 9 2017

Keywords

  • Journal Article

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