Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Functional specialization in the lower and upper visual fields in humans: Its ecological origins and neurophysiological implications

Fred H. Previca1

a1 Crew Technology Division, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB, TX 78235-5301. Electronic mail:


Functional specialization in the lower and upper visual fields in humans is analyzed in relation to the origins of the primate visual system. Processing differences between the vertical hemifields are related to the distinction between near (peripersonal) and far (extrapersonal) space, which are biased toward the lower and upper visual fields, respectively. Nonlinear/global processing is required in the lower visual field in order to pergeive the optically degraded and diplopic images in near vision, whereas objects in far vision are searched for and recognized primarily using linear/local perceptual mechanisms. The functional differences between near and far visual space are correlated with their disproportionate representations in the dorsal and ventral divisions of visual association cortex, respectively, and in the magnocellular and parvocellular pathways that project to them. Advances in far visual capabilities and forelimb manipulatory skills may have led to a significant enhancement of these functional specializations.