When does word meaning affect immediate serial recall in semantic dementia?

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Patients with semantic dementia can show superior immediate recall of words that they still understand relatively well, as compared with more semantically degraded words, suggesting that conceptual knowledge makes a major contribution to phonological short-term memory. However, a number of studies have failed to show such a recall difference, challenging this view. We examined the effect of several methodological factors on the recall of known and degraded words in 4 patients with semantic dementia, in order to investigate possible reasons for this discrepancy. In general, our patients did exhibit poorer recall of the degraded words and made more phonological errors on these items. In addition, set size affected the magnitude of the recall advantage for known words. This finding suggests that semantic degradation influenced the rate of learning in the immediate recall task when the same items were presented repeatedly. The methods used to select known and degraded items also impacted on the recall difference. List length, however, did not affect the advantage for known words. The coherence of items in phonological short-term memory was affected by their semantic status, but not by the length of the material to be retained. The implications of these findings for the role of semantic and phonological representations in verbal short-term memory are discussed.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-42
Number of pages22
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2004