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Possible mechanisms of anosognosia: a defect in self–awareness

K. M. Heilman, A. M. Barrett, J. C. Adair


Anosognosia of hemiplegia is of interest for both pragmatic and theoretical reasons. We discuss several neuropsychological theories that have been proposed to explain this deficit. Although for psychological reasons people might deny deficits, the denial hypothesis cannot account for the hemispheric asymmetries associated with this disorder and cannot explain why some patients might deny one deficit and recognize another equally disabling deficit. There is some evidence that faulty feedback from sensory deficits, spatial neglect and asomatognosia might be responsible for anosognosia in some patients. However, these feedback hypotheses cannot account for anosognosia in all patients. Although the hemispheric disconnection hypothesis is appealing, disconnection is probably only a rare cause of this disorder. The feedforward intentional theory of anosognosia suggests that the discovery of weakness is dependent on attempted action and some patients might have anosognosia because they do not attempt to move. We present evidence that supports this theory. The presence of one mechanism of anosognosia, however, does not preclude the possibility that other mechanisms might also be working to produce this disorder. Although a large population study needs to be performed, we suspect that anosognosia might be caused by several of the mechanisms that we have discussed.

On the basis of the studies of impaired corporeal self–awareness that we have reviewed, we can infer that normal self–awareness is dependent on several parallel processes. One must have sensory feedback and the ability to attend to both one's body and the space where parts of the body may be positioned or acting. One must develop a representation of the body, and this representation must be continuously modified by expectations (feedforward) and knowledge of results (feedback).

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