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    Multimodal measures of sentence comprehension in agrammatism

    Thothathiri, Malathi, Kirkwood, Jeremy, Patra, Abhijeet ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2569-100X, Krason, Anna and Middleton, Erica L (2023) Multimodal measures of sentence comprehension in agrammatism. Cortex, 169. pp. 309-325. ISSN 0010-9452

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    Abstract

    Agrammatic or asyntactic comprehension is a common language impairment in aphasia. We considered three possible hypotheses about the underlying cause of this deficit, namely problems in syntactic processing, over-reliance on semantics, and a deficit in cognitive control. We tested four individuals showing asyntactic comprehension on their comprehension of syntax-semantics conflict sentences (e.g., The robber handcuffed the cop), where semantic cues pushed towards a different interpretation from syntax. Two of the four participants performed above chance on such sentences indicating that not all agrammatic individuals are impaired in structure-based interpretation. We collected additional eyetracking measures from the other two participants, who performed at chance on the conflict sentences. These measures suggested distinct underlying processing profiles in the two individuals. Cognitive assessments further suggested that one participant might have performed poorly due to a linguistic cognitive control impairment while the other had difficulty due to over-reliance on semantics. Together, the results highlight the importance of multimodal measures for teasing apart aphasic individuals' underlying deficits. They corroborate findings from neurotypical adults by showing that semantics can strongly influence comprehension and that cognitive control could be relevant for choosing between competing sentence interpretations. They extend previous findings by demonstrating variability between individuals with aphasia-cognitive control might be especially relevant for patients who are not overly reliant on semantics. Clinically, the identification of distinct underlying problems in different individuals suggests that different treatment paths might be warranted for cases who might look similar on behavioral assessments.

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