Purdue University Graduate School
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Structural Priming from Production to Comprehension in Aphasia

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posted on 2022-07-11, 21:07 authored by Austin D KeenAustin D Keen

Background: Many persons with aphasia (PWA) show deficits in sentence production and comprehension which are, in part, attributed to an inefficient mapping between messages and syntactic structures. Structural priming—the tendency to repeat a previously encountered sentence structure—has been shown to support implicit syntactic learning within and across production and comprehension modalities in healthy adults. Structural priming is effective in facilitating the production or comprehension of sentences in PWA. However, less is known about whether priming in one modality changes PWA’s performance in the other modality, which is crucial evidence needed for developing structural priming as a cost-effective intervention strategy in aphasia.

Aims: This study examined (a) whether production to comprehension cross-modality priming is effective in PWA, (b) whether priming-induced changes in syntactic comprehension lasted even in the absence of an immediate prime, and (c) whether there is a significant correlation between individuals’ priming effects and the change in their comprehension following priming.

Methods & Procedures: Thirteen PWA and 13 age-matched control participants completed a training study comprised of three phases: a pre-test, a production-to-comprehension priming block, and a post-test. In the pre- and post-tests, participants completed a sentence-picture matching task with sentences involving interpretations of an ambiguous prepositional phrase (e.g., The teacher is poking the monk with a bat). Participants were free to choose a picture corresponding to a high attachment (HA; e.g., the teacher is using the bat to poke the monk) or a low attachment (LA; e.g., the monk is the one holding the bat) interpretation. In the priming block, participants produced LA sentences as prime and then completed a sentence-picture matching task for comprehension targets, similar to the pre-test. 

Results: Age-matched controls and PWA showed a significant priming effect when comparing the priming block to the pre-test. In both groups, the priming effect persisted when comparing picture selections in the pre- and post-tests. At the individual level, age-matched controls who showed larger priming effects also selected more LA pictures in the post-test compared to the pre-test, indicating that the priming effect accounted for the magnitude of change from the pre- to post-test. This correlation was also found in PWA.

Conclusion: The findings of this study suggest that production-to-comprehension cross-modality priming is effective and persistent in PWA and controls, in line with the view that structural priming is a form of implicit learning. Further, the findings support sentence processing models that suggest syntactic representations are shared between production and comprehension, and therefore, production influences future comprehension. Cross-modality priming from production to comprehension has clinical potential to improve sentence processing in PWA. 


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jiyeon Lee

Additional Committee Member 2

Laurence Leonard

Additional Committee Member 3

Elaine Francis