Verbal working memory and its relationship to sentence-level reading and listening comprehension in persons with aphasia

Jee Eun Sung, Malcolm R. McNeil, Sheila R. Pratt, Michael Walsh Dickey, William D. Hula, Neil J. Szuminsky, Patrick J. Doyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Working memory (WM) has gained recent attention as a cognitive construct that may account for language comprehension deficits in persons with aphasia (PWA) (Caspari, Parkinson, LaPointe, & Katz, 1998; Martin, Kohen, & Kalinyak- Fliszar, 2008; Wright, Downey, Gravier, Love, & Shapiro, 2007). However, few studies have investigated individual differences in performance on sentence comprehension tasks as a function of WM capacity in PWA when WM demands are manipulated. Aims: The purposes of the current study were: (1) to examine the relationships among verbal WM, sentence comprehension, and severity of impairment in PWA and (2) to investigate the differential performance of high versus low verbal WM groups on sentence comprehension tasks in which task demands were manipulated by the length of the sentence stimuli, complexity of syntactic structure, and by presentation method which varied the time over which the linguistic material was available for computation. Methods & Procedures: A total of 20 PWA were divided into high and low WM groups based on a listening version of a WM sentence span task. Each participant completed a listening version (CRTT) and three reading versions (CRTT-R) of the Computerised Revised Token Test as the sentence comprehension tasks. Outcomes & Results: The WM task significantly predicted performance on the CRTT conditions in which information was only temporarily available, thereby imposing greater WM demands on sentence comprehension. The verbal WM task was significantly correlated with aphasia severity and a principal components analysis revealed that the WM task, overall aphasia severity, and overall reading impairment level loaded on a single factor with 76% of shared variance. The low WM group's performance was significantly lower than the high WM group on the CRTT subtests with syntactically more complex structures and on the CRTT conditions with temporally restricted presentation methods. Conclusions: This verbal WM task was significantly and moderately correlated with the overall severity of aphasia as well as with both listening and reading sentence comprehension. The WM group differences emerged only in sentence comprehension tasks with greater WM demands. These results are consistent with the notion that WM effects are most evident when WM capacity is sufficiently taxed by the task demands (e.g., Caplan & Waters, 1999; Just & Carpenter, 1992).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1040-1052
Number of pages13
JournalAphasiology
Volume23
Issue number7-8
DOIs
StatePublished - 2009

Keywords

  • Aphasia
  • Aphasia severity
  • Sentence comprehension
  • Working memory

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