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Does the Thematic Hierarchy hold in people with aphasia and across the lifespan? Evidence from the Event Task

Norvilas, Sophia (2022) Does the Thematic Hierarchy hold in people with aphasia and across the lifespan? Evidence from the Event Task. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Aphasia is a neurological disorder that can disrupt language production and comprehension, impairing both written and spoken language (Dresang et al., 2019). This condition is typically brought on by brain damage following a stroke. Research indicates that people with aphasia sometimes rely on event knowledge to compensate for their language impairment (Caramazza & Zurif, 1976). However, we know little about event processing in people with aphasia (PWA), even though event knowledge supports a multitude of crucial cognitive processes, including language comprehension, language production, memory, and perception. One type of event knowledge that has been studied thoroughly in linguistics is the entities, objects, and locations (event roles) that are involved in events. Linguists have developed a hypothesis, known as the Thematic Hierarchy, that some of these event roles are more cognitively salient than others. The research I present here uses evidence from a new assessment that measures event knowledge (the Event Task) to evaluate whether this thematic knowledge is maintained in older adults and people with aphasia, while also examining whether the performance of PWA on the Event Task is aligned with the Thematic Hierarchy. PWA (N = 26) and neurologically healthy adults (N = 182) completed the Event Task, which instructed participants to identify whether a depicted event was plausible or implausible. Analyses showed that the Thematic Hierarchy did not appear to guide the performance of PWA or neurologically healthy adults across the lifespan. However, PWA and neurologically healthy controls alike displayed the same patterns of both accuracy and reaction time performance. In neurologically healthy adults, increased age was correlated with decreased accuracy and increased reaction times. In addition, neurologically healthy adults with 12+ years of education were found to have increased accuracy and decreased reaction times. The current findings could be the foundation for future research regarding aphasia and event knowledge.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Norvilas, Sophiason13@pitt.eduson13
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorDickey, Michael
Committee MemberWarren,
Committee MemberFiez,
Committee MemberReilly,
Date: 13 December 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 11 November 2022
Approval Date: 13 December 2022
Submission Date: 30 November 2022
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 48
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: aphasia, semantic memory, event knowledge, event roles, Thematic Hierarchy, Event Task
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2022 19:23
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2022 19:23


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