What are the facts of semantic category-specific deficits? A critical review of the clinical evidence

Erminio Capitani, M. Laiacona, B. Mahon, A. Caramazza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In is study we provide a critical review of the clinical evidence available to date in the field of semantic category-specific deficits. The motivation for undertaking this review is that not all the data reported in the literature are useful for adjudicating among extant theories. This project is an attempt to answer two basic questions: (1) what are the categories of category-specific deficits, and (2) is there an interaction between impairment for a type of knowledge (e.g., visual, functional, etc.) and impairment for a given category of objects (e.g., biological, artefacts, etc.). Of the 79 case studies in which the reported data are sufficiently informative with respect to the aims of our study, 61 presented a disproportionate impairment for biological categories and 18 presented a disproportionate impairment for artefacts. Less than half of the reported cases provide statistically and theoretically interpretable data. Each case is commented upon individually. The facts that emerge from our critical review are that (1) the categories of category-specific semantic deficits are animate objects, inanimate biological objects, and artefacts (the domain of biological objects fractionates into two independent semantic categories: animals, and fruit/vegetables); (2) the types of category-specific deficits are not associated with specific types of conceptual knowledge deficits. Other conclusions that emerge from our review are that the evidence in favour of the existence of cases of reliable category-specific agnosia or anomia is not very strong, and that the visual structural description system functions relatively autonomously from conceptual knowledge about object form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-261
Number of pages49
JournalCognitive Neuropsychology
Issue number3-6
Publication statusPublished - May 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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