Reaction to “The relationship between visual perception and visual mental imagery” by Bartolomeo (2002)

Reaction to Bartolomeo (2002) by Richard Thripp
EXP 6506 Section 0002: Fall 2015 – UCF, Dr. Joseph Schmidt
October 26, 2015 [Week 10]

One big takeaway from this article: For neuropsychological impairments that have previously been “bundled” (my terminology—not Bartolomeo’s) under one mechanism in speculative conceptualizations, this bundling should only be entertained as long as contrary evidence is not discovered (pp. 360–361). For example, if perceptual and imagery abilities are postulated as a bundle, but a patient is discovered who has intact imagery abilities but impaired perceptual abilities, the postulation should be discarded or adapted to account for the new evidence. This is logical, but remains a problem for researchers who have so much time, energy, reputation, and funding dependent on their models—the temptation is strong to “explain away” the data, which is possibly what has been done with the Kosslyn model (p. 361). While exceptional patients may exist, we should always be wary when the source of the explanation is someone who has a vested interest in maintaining their position, even when that someone is a scholar supposedly committed to the search for truth.

Postulating a unitary mechanism, however, might still be tenable in the face of conflicting evidence if these conflicts can be explained by physiological differences in a proportion of the population. We have discussed evidence in EXP 6506 class that only 2–5% of people can truly multitask, while 95–98% of people just switch between tasks, degrading performance. It might be proposed that the 2–5% of people who are “true” multitaskers have physiological brain differences from the majority. Similarly, if we postulate that overt and covert facial recognition are bundled, and then patients are discovered who can covertly but not overtly recognize faces, we do not necessarily have to discard our model—the newly discovered patients could just be part of a special class due to potential physiological differences, like the “true” multitaskers.

The poor writing quality of this article was distracting. From the first paragraph, the author gives an example about “loosing further credibility” (p. 357), which, of course, should be “losing.” Portions of page 362 were particularly awkward and badly written, and there were run-on sentences throughout the article. I was surprised when I read “for face imagery, the available anatomical evidence is really scanty” (p. 373)—firstly, “scanty” is a funny word and I have never seen it in a journal article, and secondly, using “really” in this context is something I would expect in a teenager’s text message, not Cortex. However, this can be partly forgiven because the author is from France; English may not be his native language.

The research Bartolomeo has reviewed is intriguing, but it is very sad that so many studies omit critical information, such as imaginal experience of a patient (Shuren, Brott, Schefft, & Houston, 1996 as cited by Bartolomeo, 2002, pp. 366–367), the locations of anatomical lesions in two studies from 1883 and 1952 (pp. 367–368), and the precise location of a brain lesion following an aneurysm and subsequent but unrelated trauma (Shuttleworth, Syring, & Allen, 1982 as cited by Bartolomeo, 2002, p. 368). While this is forgivable in older studies, it is vexing when contemporary researchers neglect to collect or include such information, especially when are trying to examine their evidence in a new light as Bartolomeo has attempted. My only complaint about Bartolomeo is that he does not indicate whether he contacted Shuren et al. or Shuttleworth et al. asking them if they possessed or could recall the information, although they should have assessed imaginal experience and pinpointed the brain lesion for inclusion in their original papers.

Reference

Bartolomeo, P. (2002). The relationship between visual perception and visual mental imagery: A reappraisal of the neuropsychological evidence. Cortex, 38, 357–378.

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