Recognition of letters traced in the right and left palms: Evidence for a process-oriented tactile asymmetry

Michael W. O'Boyle, Fern Van Wyhe-Lawler, David A. Miller

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21 Scopus citations


Three experiments were conducted to examine the relative ability of the cerebral hemispheres to identify capital letters traced in the palms of the hands. In Experiment 1, letters were presented either right side up or upside down, and the subject's task was to name the letter aloud or point to an identical letter using the stimulated hand. Analysis of the accuracy data revealed that the left palm/right hemisphere ( LP RH) performed this task significantly better than did the right palm/left hemisphere ( RP LH), particularly when the stimuli were presented in the upside-down orientation. In Experiments 2 and 3, subjects performed the same letter identification task; however, on half the trials, they were required to maintain either a spatial or verbal concurrent memory load (i.e., a 24-point Vanderplas & Garvin form or six low-imagery nouns, respectively). In the no-load condition of Experiment 2 (spatial forms), the previously observed LP RH advantage was replicated. However, in the load condition, this LP RH superiority was no longer in evidence. In Experiment 3 (low-imagery nouns), the presence of a concurrent verbal task had minimal impact on the previously observed performance asymmetry as the LP RH advantage was obtained in both the no-load and load conditions. The results of the three studies taken in composite suggest that (1) the operations utilized to identify letters traced in the palms of the hands are primarily spatial in nature and (2) that the observed performance asymmetry may be attributed to a right hemisphere superiority for the analysis and codification of information along a spatial dimension. These findings are discussed in terms of a "process-oriented" model of hemispheric asymmetry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-494
Number of pages21
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1987


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