Verbal short-term memory capacities and executive function in semantic and syntactic interference resolution during sentence comprehension: Evidence from aphasia

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Abstract

This study examined the role of verbal short-term memory (STM) and executive function (EF) underlying semantic and syntactic interference resolution during sentence comprehension for persons with aphasia (PWA) with varying degrees of STM and EF deficits. Semantic interference was manipulated by varying the semantic plausibility of the intervening NP as subject of the verb and syntactic interference was manipulated by varying whether the NP was another subject or an object. Nine PWA were assessed on sentence reading times and on comprehension question performance. PWA showed exaggerated semantic and syntactic interference effects relative to healthy age-matched control subjects. Importantly, correlational analyses showed that while answering comprehension questions, PWA’ semantic STM capacity related to their ability to resolve semantic but not syntactic interference. In contrast, PWA’ EF abilities related to their ability to resolve syntactic but not semantic interference. Phonological STM deficits were not related to the ability to resolve either type of interference. The results for semantic interference are consistent with prior findings indicating a role for semantic but not phonological STM in sentence comprehension, specifically with regard to maintaining semantic information prior to integration. The results for syntactic interference are consistent with the recent findings suggesting that EF is critical for syntactic processing.

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