Psychic Blindness: The Object Recognition Problem


Abstract. Do you know “blindsight,” when we recognize something without conscious effort? “Psychic blindness” is the opposite. Besides perfect eyesight, a person suffering from visual ‘object agnosia,’ cannot recognize an object due to the inability to associate the optical signals with the memorized concept of the object in sight. The same object could, however, be identified by the means of other senses such as hearing or touch. The article discusses some causes, examples, and even implications on self-perception of this relatively rare but interesting syndrome from a scientific point of view.


Álvarez and Masjuan (2016) state that vision is the most advanced and most important human sense. In contrast to the phenomenon of “blindsight”, i.e., when processing an object automatically without conscious effort (Rossetti, Pisella, and McIntosh, 2017), the processing of visual information can also be impaired. The impairment can be so severe that visual objects like faces and letters don’t get produced in the mind, despite perfectly working eyesight (Serino et al., 2014). Historically and by scientists from different disciplines this so called ‘visual agnosia’ was also coined as the expression of “blind in mind,” or “psychic blindness” (p. 61). Reasons for visual object agnosia can be neurodegenerative diseases as evidenced by an older patient (Bergmans, Deryck, & Bruffaerts, 2016). Damage through intoxication as reported by Bridge et al. (2013) can be a cause too, as well as a lesion through an accident as in an example from Yasuno, Hashikawa, Kabeshita, Kudo, and Kishimoto (2016).

Neurological processes

It is hypothesized that there are two visual processes involving two different neural routes, the ventral one responsible for visual recognition and the dorsal one for the interpretation of a visual object (Álvarez & Masjuan, 2016). Visual agnosia results from an impaired ventral stream (Huberle, Rupek, Lappe, & Karnath, 2012). De-Wit, Kubilius, Op de Beeck, and Wagemans (2013) provided evidence for an automatically working visual mechanism that is responsible for interpreting parts of an object into a whole. Furthermore, a visual agnosia patient is not able to associate the visual input with an according memorized conceptualized image (Serino et al., 2014). In that case, any therapeutic association technique to bring the subconscious to awareness risks to fail. From the study of a patient who, after an infarction, could not name presented fruits and vegetables anymore, Yasuno et al. (2016) have drawn an interesting conclusion. They took the specific disablement of the ‘fruit and vegetable’ category as evidence for the existence of according categorical human neural networks that are explainable through the evolutionary importance of the recognition of fruits and vegetables for survival.

Potential impact on the self

If it can be argued that a personality is influenced by more or less unconscious drives and motivations that are shaped also based on past experiences of our social and physical (!) environment, then it may be also decisive for individual differences how one is visually processing objects. Without finally concluding, the following may provide an example for that thought experiment. For example, people suffering from body image concern (BIC) are overestimating physical flaws due to an over-emphasis on specific local visual processing, e.g., isolating a nose or a belly (Beilharz, Atkins, Duncum, & Mundy, 2016). If the local processing system worked less biased respectively in harmony with the automatic global visual processing of the whole body, a more proportionate picture of the entire physical self would be perceived (Beilharz et al., 2016). That way, a distorted visual perception (an impaired psychic sight) of one self may adversely influence one’s self-concept overall.

Photo credit: DasWortgewand (



Álvarez, R., & Masjuan, J. (2016). Review: Visual agnosia. Revista Clínica Española (English Edition), 21685-91. doi:10.1016/j.rceng.2015.10.002

Beilharz, F. L., Atkins, K. J., Duncum, A. F., & Mundy, M. E. (2016). Altering Visual Perception Abnormalities: A Marker for Body Image Concern. Plos ONE, 11(3), 1-20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151933

Bergmans, B., Deryck, O., & Bruffaerts, R. (2016). Pearls & Oy-sters: Visual agnosia An overlooked cortical sign. Neurology, 87(19), e237-e238. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000003306

de-Wit, L. H., Kubilius, J., Op de Beeck, H. P., & Wagemans, J. (2013). Configural Gestalts remain nothing more than the sum of their parts in visual agnosia. I-Perception, 4(8), doi:10.1068/i0613rep

Huberle, E., Rupek, P., Lappe, M., & Karnath, H. (2012). Perception of biological motion in visual agnosia. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 6doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2012.00056

Rossetti, Y., Pisella, L., & McIntosh, R. D. (2017). Update article: Rise and fall of the two visual systems theory. Annals Of Physical And Rehabilitation Medicine, 60(Spatial Cognition), 130-140. doi:10.1016/

Serino, A., Cecere, R., Dundon, N., Bertini, C., Sanchez-Castaneda, C., & Làdavas, E. (2014). When apperceptive agnosia is explained by a deficit of primary visual processing. Cortex: A Journal Devoted To The Study Of The Nervous System & Behavior, 5212-27. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2013.12.011

Yasuno, F., Hashikawa, K., Kabeshita, Y., Kudo, T., & Kishimoto, T. (2016). Highly selective category‐specific deficits of visual processing at a stage of access to the semantic representation. Psychogeriatrics, 16(5), 331-333. doi:10.1111/psyg.12167

    • Thank you very much for your comment! Indeed, we often rely on some automated mental processing. I think there are lots of possibilities to more consciously intervene into our psychic ‘mechanisms’ to change our psychology for the better. Not that it would be bad as it is generally, but there seems to be still a lot of potential for how we can use our mental capacities:-). All the best!

  • Fascinating! I tend to personalize a lot that I read so forgive me if I’m off the point. I don’t have a scientific brain but wondering if this is similar. An example is an ex-husband’s mustache. He once shaved it off and it took me a week to recognize it. I have walked around huge piles of lumber on my driveway without seeing them. I’ve since learned that this is an autistic “symptom” for some of us. I tend to think that my mind is going so fast about more exciting visuals or thoughts that I miss the obvious. Just thought I’d comment on that. Not sure, though, if it is related to your post 🙂

    • Thank you for your interesting experiences, which are absolutely worth to compare to psychic blindness. Much appreciated!
      First of all, we indeed have the ability to see something without being aware of it. This “filter” is considered to be a survival mechanism, helping us to manage our brain capacity efficiently. Meaning that the high processing power required to become aware of what we see is only invested in what is judged to be of sufficient interest (you said it was the mustache of your Ex(!)-husband?:-)). Also, many studies evidence that when our attention is busy with something, we lack the ability to notice other things even in front of our eyes. Autism, in fact, can lead to increased unresponsiveness to common stimuli. The object recognition problem I’ve described in above article results from the inability to associate an image with a stored concept of an object, but there is also another form that involves an impairment of the visual processing itself. Robertson et al. (2014) found that in autism a perturbation in visual processing could indeed also be a cause for unconsciously popping out things before one’s eyes. Thanks again for your feedback, and I hope I could add a bit further too. Have a great day!

  • O Matthias, Matthias but you honor me with your visits! I read your posts. Phew! O Matthias, I just don’t want to ‘grow’! Maybe colorful yes, but! I am having a grand time dancing in the rain, decked with my freely dress and matching parasol and shoes in the sight of my Creator! I would send you the picture but I don’t know how to upload it here. Have a blessed colorful day! Much love, thiaBasilia. 🙂

    • Hi, thiaBasilia. Nice one:-). I think there is no need to grow the same way for everybody. It can be a valid point that we are not human “doings,” but just “human beings.” There are many different forms of growth, and I especially don’t mean it in a materialistic way! For me personal growth is using the gifts “the creator” has given me as effectively and appreciatively as possible. In that sense ‘growth’ can even mean to actively preserve genuine and “childish” qualities that are often at risk to become lost through education and socialization over time. Happy dancing!:-)

  • Aren’t you clever? Just like my or should I say ‘our’ Creator is! I just woke up thinking to write my next post with a humorous slant. After all, my wacky life is enough to entertain many of my friends. So, it might entertain even my new found Friend Matthias Sager! On to my task, dancing away even when there is no rain in these hotsy topsy summer days! Much love, thiaBasilia. 🙂

    • Just saw your post and as somebody who also still knows what a floppy disk is, it is an especially fun article. Humour is a vital help, if not a fundamental way of how to dance through life, for sure!

      • Once again, you contributing to my fun 7th day of the week. Just finish putting the last touch on my wild butterfly I am fixing to post next! Give it another click–be worth a chuckle! All after a momentary downer of yesterday. Do click. Remember, we having fun! That’s colorful! So much to learn still…:-)