Phonological learning in semantic dementia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Patients with semantic dementia (SD) have anterior temporal lobe (ATL) atrophy that gives rise to a highly selective deterioration of semantic knowledge. Despite pronounced anomia and poor comprehension of words and pictures, SD patients have well-formed, fluent speech and normal digit span. Given the intimate connection between phonological STM and word learning revealed by both neuropsychological and developmental studies, SD patients might be expected to show good acquisition of new phonological forms, even though their ability to map these onto meanings is impaired. In contradiction of these predictions, a limited amount of previous research has found poor learning of new phonological forms in SD. In a series of experiments, we examined whether SD patient, GE, could learn novel phonological sequences and, if so, under which circumstances. GE showed normal benefits of phonological knowledge in STM (i.e., normal phonotactic frequency and phonological similarity effects) but reduced support from semantic memory (i.e., poor immediate serial recall for semantically degraded words, characterised by frequent item errors). Next, we demonstrated normal learning of serial order information for repeated lists of single-digit number words using the Hebb paradigm: these items were well-understood allowing them to be repeated without frequent item errors. In contrast, patient GE showed little learning of nonsense syllable sequences using the same Hebb paradigm. Detailed analysis revealed that both GE and the controls showed a tendency to learn their own errors as opposed to the target items. Finally, we showed normal learning of phonological sequences for GE when he was prevented from repeating his errors. These findings confirm that the ATL atrophy in SD disrupts phonological processing for semantically degraded words but leaves the phonological architecture intact. Consequently, when item errors are minimised, phonological STM can support the acquisition of new phoneme sequences in patients with SD. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1208-1218
Number of pages10
JournalNEUROPSYCHOLOGIA
Volume49
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011