The "thin man" phenomenon: a sign of cortical plasticity following inferior homonymous paracentral scotomas

Br J Ophthalmol. 1999 Feb;83(2):137-42. doi: 10.1136/bjo.83.2.137.


Aim: To investigate an image distortion, experienced by patients with homonymous paracentral scotomas.

Methods: Two consecutive patients with right inferior homonymous paracentral scotomas resulting from ischaemic brain insults were examined. Neuro-ophthalmological examination included tangent screen and Amsler grid evaluation. In addition, the patients were asked to describe a figure showing two vertical lines, identical in length and symmetrically located on either side of a fixation point. This figure was presented in such a way that when the subject looked at the fixation point the right line crossed the scotoma. Finally, the patients were asked whether, when looking at the face of an interlocutor, both sides of the body looked the same.

Results: In both patients field defects were markedly smaller when delineated with Amsler grids than using a tangent screen. With the parallel line test, the right line appeared uninterrupted in patient 1, whereas in patient 2 it looked slightly blurred in a two degree long segment corresponding to the middle of the scotoma. To both subjects the right line appeared shorter than the left line. Finally both subjects indicated that, after steadily fixating their interlocutor's face or neck for 5-10 seconds, the left shoulder appeared narrower than the right one, which made him look surprisingly thin. This perceptual alteration was called the "thin man" phenomenon.

Conclusions: Paracentral homonymous scotomas can be associated with perceptual completion and shape distortion, owing to apparent displacement of images adjacent to the scotoma towards the field defect. Occurrence of such a perceptual change should alert one to the possibility of paracentral homonymous scotomas, which often go undetected when using routine visual field testing procedures.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia / complications*
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Scotoma / diagnosis*
  • Scotoma / physiopathology
  • Vision Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology
  • Visual Fields