Pure alexia, or alexia without agraphia, is a curious neuropsychological syndrome where patients lose the ability to read following focal brain injury, while their written and spoken language is largely intact. As neuropsychological syndromes go, it is a quite simple syndrome: Only one cognitive function is clearly affected, namely visual word recognition. So the syndrome should be easy to explain. Yet there is so far no consensus about the cognitive cause of this reading disorder: Is it a word specific problem, or rather due to a more general deficit in visual recognition? What brain mechanism might be damaged to leave writing intact while reading is impaired? My talk will discuss the main questions in pure alexia research, and present data suggesting that pure alexia is a general deficit in visual processing, but one that has a larger impact on visual word recognition than visual recognition of other stimuli. I will also touch on the recent suggestion that visual agnosias like pure alexia and (acquired) prosopagnosia are less selective than text-book knowledge holds, and present recent data indicating that reading and face recognition can indeed be dissociated.
Dr. Starrfelt is Associate professor in neuropsychology at the Dept. of Psychology at University of Copenhagen. Her research is primarily concerned with normal and impaired visual word recognition, as well as neuropsychologcial deficits (developmental or acquired) in visual processing of faces and other visual stimuli.