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Language Recovery in Aphasia through Structural Priming: Error-based or Activation-based Learning?

Poster B51 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Willem van Boxtel1, Jiyeon Lee1, Joshua Weirick1, Nadine Martin2, Victor Ferreira3, Emily Bauman1, Lily Haven1, Matthew Sayers2, Rylee Manning1; 1Purdue University, 2Temple University, 3University of California at San Diego

Aphasia is a language processing disorder affecting the spectrum of communication from single words to sentences. Most aphasia treatments, however, are highly explicit and focus on improving anomia. Moreover, little evidence is available on what learning principles are essential in syntax rehabilitation for patients with aphasia (PWA). This study (a) applies implicit structural priming as a novel treatment for creating lasting recovery of sentence production in PWA and (b) investigates which learning principle (error-based vs. activation-based priming) is an essential mechanism of action. Theories of structural priming - speakers’ tendency to reuse sentence structures they experienced (primed) previously- claim that it reflects implicit language learning (Bock, 1986; Pickering & Ferreira, 2008). This learning may be guided by error-based tuning of syntactic processing, caused by discrepancies that the speaker experiences between alternating prime structures (e.g., some actives and some passives) (Chang et al., 2006). Alternatively, repeated priming of a single prime structure (e.g., all passive primes) may strengthen the base-level activation of that structure in memory, supporting long-term learning (Reitter et al., 2011). Sixteen PWA and 16 age-matched controls completed a training study consisting of baseline testing, three sessions of structural priming training, immediate (1-day) and delayed (1-week) post testing. Target sentences were passive (e.g., the child is being chased by the mailman) and double object (DO) datives (e.g., the director is giving the boy a gift). During structural priming training, participants orally read two prime sentences following which they described a target picture. At baseline and post-testing, sentence production probes were administered to assess acquisition and maintenance of trained and untrained target stimuli. All participants received both single-structure (activation-based) priming and alternating-structure (error-based) priming training conditions, with the orders of training conditions and targeted structures counterbalanced. Data are so far analyzed for 9/16 PWA and 16 controls. At immediate post-testing, both groups showed improved production of trained and untrained target sentences, compared to baseline (t = 6.44, p < .001). PWA showed a greater improvement following the single-structure priming training compared to the alternating-structure priming; however, this effect was reversed in controls (t = 3.03, p < .01). At delayed post-testing, both groups still showed higher production of target stimuli compared to baseline (t = 6.18, p < .001). The same interaction with training condition was found at delayed post-testing (t = 2.69, p < .01). These results suggest that structural priming training is effective for ameliorating sentence production deficits, creating lasting and generalized improvements (Lee & Man, 2017; Man et al., 2019; Saffran & Martin, 1997). Independent production of both trained and untrained target sentences improved significantly following the training, which was maintained one week after training ceased. Unlike age-matched controls, PWA showed greater production improvements when prime sentences did not alternate between the target and non-target structure. Implicit language learning through structural priming remains resilient in post-stroke aphasia. Repeated-activation learning (Reitter et al., 2011) rather than error-based learning (Chang et al., 2006; 2012) is likely an essential mechanism of action that supports syntactic re-learning in aphasia.

Topic Areas: Disorders: Acquired, Language Production

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