Anton–Babinski syndrome is a rare symptom of brain damage occurring in the occipital lobe. Those who suffer from it are "cortically blind", but affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing. Failing to accept being blind, the sufferer dismisses evidence of his condition and employs confabulation to fill in the missing sensory input. It is named after Gabriel Anton and Joseph Babinski.
The sudden development of bilateral occipital dysfunction is likely to produce transient physical and psychical effects in which mental confusion may be prominent. It may be some days before the relatives, or the nursing staff, stumble onto the fact that the patient has actually become sightless. This is not only because the patient ordinarily does not volunteer the information that he has become blind, but he furthermore misleads his entourage by behaving and talking as though he were sighted. Attention is aroused however when the patient is found to collide with pieces of furniture, to fall over objects, and to experience difficulty in finding his way around. He may try to walk through a wall or through a closed door on his way from one room to another. Suspicion is still further alerted when he begins to describe people and objects around him which, as a matter of fact, are not there at all.
Thus we have the twin symptoms of anosognosia (or lack of awareness of defect) and confabulation, the latter affecting both speech and behaviour.
Anton–Babinski syndrome may be thought of ideally as the opposite of blindsight, blindsight occurring when part of the visual field is not consciously experienced, but some reliable perception does in fact occur.
Why patients with Anton–Babinski syndrome deny their blindness is unknown, although there are many theories. One hypothesis is that damage to the visual cortex results in the inability to communicate with the speech-language areas of the brain. Visual imagery is received but cannot be interpreted; the speech centers of the brain confabulate a response.
In popular culture
Anton–Babinski syndrome was featured in two episodes of the television series House M.D., titled "Euphoria, Part 1" and "Euphoria, Part 2", although it was ascribed to primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a disease that usually does not cause the syndrome in real life.
- Macdonald Critchley, "Modes of reaction to central blindness", in Critchley, 1979, p. 156
- Prigatano, George P.; Schacter, Daniel L (1991). Awareness of deficit after brain injury: clinical and theoretical issues. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 53–60. ISBN 0-19-505941-7.
Critchley, Macdonald, The Divine Banquet of the Brain, Raven, New York, 1979