Expertise in non-visual domains such as musical performance is associated with differences in gray matter volume of particular regions of the human brain. Whether this is also the case for expertise in visual object recognition is unknown. Here we tested whether individual variability in the ability to recognize car models, from novice performance to high level of expertise, is associated with specific structural changes in gray matter volume. We found that inter-individual variability in expertise with cars was significantly and selectively correlated with gray matter volume in prefrontal cortex. Inter-individual differences in the recognition of airplanes, that none of the participants had expertise with, were correlated with structural variability of regions bordering the visual cortex. These results highlight the role of prefrontal regions outside the visual cortex in accessing and processing visual knowledge about objects from the domain of expertise and suggest that expertise in visual object recognition may entail structural changes in regions associated with semantic knowledge.
► We examined neuroanatomical correlates of expertise in car recognition. ► The neural structure of prefrontal regions predicted expertise in car recognition. ► No structural correlates within ventral occipital cortex were found for car expertise.
Visual expertise; VBM; PFC
A 60 year old patient, SE, who presented with a severe difficulty in finding his way around previously familiar environments and a mild prosopagnosia is described. SE had herpes simplex encephalitis resulting in selective right temporal lobe damage. He showed normal spatial learning, but was severely imparied in his ability to recognise pictures of buildings and landmarks. The disorder was not confined to the visual modality, but rather involved a loss of knowledge about famous buildings and landmarks when tested from their spoken name. SE was contrasted with a more severely prosopagnosic patient, PHD, who showed normal ability to recognise buildings and landmarks, indicating that recognition of people dissociates from recognition of buildings/landmarks. It is concluded that SE's failure of place knowledge represents a category specific supramodal semantic memory impairment.
Prosopagnosia is a selective deficit in facial identification which can be either acquired, (e.g., after brain damage), or present from birth (congenital). The face recognition deficit in prosopagnosia is characterized by worse accuracy, longer reaction times, more dispersed gaze behavior and a strong reliance on featural processing.
We introduce a conceptual model of an apperceptive/associative type of congenital prosopagnosia where a deficit in holistic processing is compensated by a serial inspection of isolated, informative features. Based on the model proposed we investigated performance differences in different face and shoe identification tasks between a group of 16 participants with congenital prosopagnosia and a group of 36 age-matched controls. Given enough training and unlimited stimulus presentation prosopagnosics achieved normal face identification accuracy evincing longer reaction times. The latter increase was paralleled by an equally-sized increase in stimulus presentation times needed achieve an accuracy of 80%. When the inspection time of stimuli was limited (50ms to 750ms), prosopagnosics only showed worse accuracy but no difference in reaction time. Tested for the ability to generalize from frontal to rotated views, prosopagnosics performed worse than controls across all rotation angles but the magnitude of the deficit didn't change with increasing rotation. All group differences in accuracy, reaction or presentation times were selective to face stimuli and didn't extend to shoes.
Our study provides a characterization of congenital prosopagnosia in terms of early processing differences. More specifically, compensatory processing in congenital prosopagnosia requires an inspection of faces that is sufficiently long to allow for sequential focusing on informative features. This characterization of dysfunctional processing in prosopagnosia further emphasizes fast and holistic information encoding as two defining characteristics of normal face processing.
To determine the anatomic correlate of prosopagnosia in subjects with semantic dementia.
We identified all subjects who had been evaluated by an experienced behavioral neurologist, met criteria for semantic dementia, and had completed a volumetric head MRI scan. In all subjects, historical records were reviewed and subjects in which the presence (n = 15) or absence (n = 12) of prosopagnosia was specifically ascertained by the neurologist were identified. Voxel-based morphometry was used to assess patterns of gray matter atrophy in subjects with and without prosopagnosia compared to a group of age and gender-matched normal controls, and compared to each other.
Compared to controls, both groups showed prominent temporal lobe volume loss. Those with prosopagnosia showed bilateral loss but with greater involvement of the right temporal lobe, while those without prosopagnosia showed predominantly left anterior temporal lobe loss. On direct comparison, subjects with prosopagnosia showed greater loss predominantly in the right amygdala, hippocampus, fusiform gyrus, and anterior temporal pole than those without prosopagnosia. No regions were involved to a greater degree in those without prosopagnosia, compared to those with prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia appears to be associated with volume loss of the right temporal lobe, particularly medial temporal lobe, fusiform gyrus, and anterior temporal pole, although in semantic dementia it is occurring in the context of bilateral temporal lobe volume loss.
= Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Registry;
= Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center;
= Boston Naming Test;
= Clinical Dementia Rating score sum of boxes;
= discrete cosine transformation;
= Dementia Rating Scale;
= frontotemporal lobar degeneration with ubiquitin-only-immunoreactive changes;
= full-width at half-maximum;
= gray matter;
= Mini-Mental State Examination;
= Montreal Neurological Institute;
= spoiled gradient echo;
= Short Test of Mental Status;
= voxel-based morphometry;
= white matter.
Recent studies indicate that expertise with objects can interfere with face processing. Although competition occurs between faces and objects of expertise, it remains unclear whether this reflects an expertise-specific bottleneck or the fact that objects of expertise grab attention and thereby consume more central resources. We investigated the perceptual costs of expertise by measuring visual thresholds for identifying targets embedded within RSVP sequences presented at varying temporal rates. Car experts and novices searched for face targets among face and car distractors, or watch targets among watch and car distractors. Remarkably, car experts were slower than novices at identifying faces among task-irrelevant cars, yet faster than novices at identifying watches among cars. This suggests that car expertise leads to greater functional overlap between cars and faces while reducing the functional overlap between cars and objects, a result incompatible with the notion of an encapsulated module for exclusive processing of faces.
competition; interference; RSVP; face; holistic processing; expertise; object recognition
Prior work suggests that non-face objects of expertise can interfere with the perception of faces when the two categories are alternately presented, suggesting competition for shared perceptual resources. Here we ask whether task-irrelevant distractors from a category of expertise compete when faces are presented in a standard visual search task. Participants searched for a target (face or sofa) in an array containing both relevant and irrelevant distractors. The number of distractors from the target category (face or sofa) remained constant, while the number of distractors from the irrelevant category (cars) varied. Search slopes, calculated as a function of the number of irrelevant cars, were correlated with car expertise. The effect was not due to car distractors grabbing attention because they did not compete with sofa targets. Objects of expertise interfere with face perception even when they are task irrelevant, visually distinct and separated in space from faces.
Face recognition is a primary social skill which depends on a distributed neural network. A pronounced face recognition deficit in the absence of any lesion is seen in congenital prosopagnosia. This study investigating 24 congenital prosopagnosic subjects and 25 control subjects aims at elucidating its neural basis with fMRI and voxel-based morphometry. We found a comprehensive behavioral pattern, an impairment in visual recognition for faces and buildings that spared long-term memory for faces with negative valence. Anatomical analysis revealed diminished gray matter density in the bilateral lingual gyrus, the right middle temporal gyrus, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In most of these areas, gray matter density correlated with memory success. Decreased functional activation was found in the left fusiform gyrus, a crucial area for face processing, and in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas activation of the medial prefrontal cortex was enhanced. Hence, our data lend strength to the hypothesis that congenital prosopagnosia is explained by network dysfunction and suggest that anatomic curtailing of visual processing in the lingual gyrus plays a substantial role. The dysfunctional circuitry further encompasses the fusiform gyrus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which may contribute to their difficulties in long-term memory for complex visual information. Despite their deficits in face identity recognition, processing of emotion related information is preserved and possibly mediated by the medial prefrontal cortex. Congenital prosopagnosia may, therefore, be a blueprint of differential curtailing in networks of visual cognition.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00415-010-5828-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Congenital prosopagnosia; Fusiform gyrus; Emotion; Functional MRI; Voxel-based morphometry
A much-debated question in object recognition is whether expertise for faces and expertise for non-face objects utilize common perceptual information. We investigated this issue by assessing the diagnostic information required for different types of expertise. Specifically, we asked whether face categorization and expert car categorization at the subordinate level relies on the same spatial frequency (SF) scales. Fifteen car experts and fifteen novices performed a category verification task with spatially filtered images of faces, cars, and airplanes. Images were categorized based on their basic (e.g. “car”) and subordinate level (e.g. “Japanese car”) identity. The effect of expertise was not evident when objects were categorized at the basic level. However, when the car experts categorized faces and cars at the subordinate level, the two types of expertise required different kinds of SF information. Subordinate categorization of faces relied on low SFs more than on high SFs, whereas subordinate expert car categorization relied on high SFs more than on low SFs. These findings suggest that expertise in the recognition of objects and faces do not utilize the same type of information. Rather, different types of expertise require different types of diagnostic visual information.
Perceptual expertise is traditionally associated with enhanced brain activity in response to objects of expertise in category-selective visual cortex, primarily face-selective regions. We reevaluated this view by investigating whether the brain activity associated with expertise in object recognition is limited to category-selective cortex and specifically whether the extent of expertise-related activity manifests automatically or whether it can be top-down modulated. We conducted 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies comparing changes in hemodynamic activity associated with car expertise in a conventional 1-back task (Experiment 1) and when the task relevance of cars was explicitly manipulated (Experiment 2). Whole-brain analysis unveiled extensive expertise-related activity throughout the visual cortex, starting as early as V1 and extending into nonvisual areas. However, when the cars were task irrelevant, the expertise-related activity drastically diminished, indeed, becoming similar to the activity elicited by cars in novices. We suggest that expertise entails voluntary top-down engagement of multiple neural networks in addition to stimulus-driven activation associated with perceptual mechanisms.
fMRI; object recognition; top-down effects; visual cortex; visual expertise
In the study of prosopagnosia, several issues (such as the specific or non-specific manifestations of prosopagnosia, the unitary or non-unitary nature of this syndrome and the mechanisms underlying face recognition disorders) are still controversial. Two main sources of variance partially accounting for these controversies could be the qualitative differences between the face recognition disorders observed in patients with prevalent lesions of the right or left hemisphere and in those with lesions encroaching upon the temporo-occipital (TO) or the (right) anterior temporal cortex. Results of our review seem to confirm these suggestions. Indeed, they show that (a) the most specific forms of prosopagnosia are due to lesions of a right posterior network including the occipital face area and the fusiform face area, whereas (b) the face identification defects observed in patients with left TO lesions seem due to a semantic defect impeding access to person-specific semantic information from the visual modality. Furthermore, face recognition defects resulting from right anterior temporal lesions can usually be considered as part of a multimodal people recognition disorder. The implications of our review are, therefore, the following: (1) to consider the components of visual agnosia often observed in prosopagnosic patients with bilateral TO lesions as part of a semantic defect, resulting from left-sided lesions (and not from prosopagnosia proper); (2) to systematically investigate voice recognition disorders in patients with right anterior temporal lesions to determine whether the face recognition defect should be considered a form of “associative prosopagnosia” or a form of the “multimodal people recognition disorder.”
prosopagnosia; multimodal people recognition disorders; unilateral lesions; visual object agnosia; familiarity feelings; configurational processing
Visual expertise is usually defined as the superior ability to distinguish between exemplars of a homogeneous category. Here, we ask how real-world expertise manifests at basic-level categorization and assess the contribution of stimulus-driven and top-down knowledge-based factors to this manifestation. Car experts and novices categorized computer-selected image fragments of cars, airplanes, and faces. Within each category, the fragments varied in their mutual information (MI), an objective quantifiable measure of feature diagnosticity. Categorization of face and airplane fragments was similar within and between groups, showing better performance with increasing MI levels. Novices categorized car fragments more slowly than face and airplane fragments, while experts categorized car fragments as fast as face and airplane fragments. The experts’ advantage with car fragments was similar across MI levels, with similar functions relating RT with MI level for both groups. Accuracy was equal between groups for cars as well as faces and airplanes, but experts’ response criteria were biased toward cars. These findings suggest that expertise does not entail only specific perceptual strategies. Rather, at the basic level, expertise manifests as a general processing advantage arguably involving application of top-down mechanisms, such as knowledge and attention, which helps experts to distinguish between object categories.
object recognition; categorization; visual cognition; expertise
Compared to objects, pictures of faces elicit a larger early electromagnetic response at occipito-temporal sites on the human scalp, with an onset of 130 ms and a peak at about 170 ms. This N170 face effect is larger in the right than the left hemisphere and has been associated with the early categorization of the stimulus as a face. Here we tested whether this effect can be observed in the absence of some of the visual areas showing a preferential response to faces as typically identified in neuroimaging. Event-related potentials were recorded in response to faces, cars, and their phase-scrambled versions in a well-known brain-damaged case of prosopagnosia (PS). Despite the patient’s right inferior occipital gyrus lesion encompassing the most posterior cortical area showing preferential response to faces (“occipital face area”), we identified an early face-sensitive component over the right occipito-temporal hemisphere of the patient that was identified as the N170. A second experiment supported this conclusion, showing the typical N170 increase of latency and amplitude in response to inverted faces. In contrast, there was no N170 in the left hemisphere, where PS has a lesion to the middle fusiform gyrus and shows no evidence of face-preferential response in neuroimaging (no left “fusiform face area”). These results were replicated by a magnetoencephalographic investigation of the patient, disclosing a M170 component only in the right hemisphere. These observations indicate that face-preferential activation in the inferior occipital cortex is not necessary to elicit early visual responses associated with face perception (N170/M170) on the human scalp. These results further suggest that when the right inferior occipital cortex is damaged, the integrity of the middle fusiform gyrus and/or the superior temporal sulcus – two areas showing face-preferential responses in the patient’s right hemisphere – might be necessary to generate the N170 effect.
prosopagnosia; N170/M170; OFA; FFA
Neuroimaging and neuropsychological literature show functional dissociations in brain activity during processing of stimuli belonging to different semantic categories (e.g., animals, tools, faces, places), but little information is available about the time course of object perceptual categorization. The aim of the study was to provide information about the timing of processing stimuli from different semantic domains, without using verbal or naming paradigms, in order to observe the emergence of non-linguistic conceptual knowledge in the ventral stream visual pathway. Event related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in 18 healthy right-handed individuals as they performed a perceptual categorization task on 672 pairs of images of animals and man-made objects (i.e., artifacts).
Behavioral responses to animal stimuli were ~50 ms faster and more accurate than those to artifacts. At early processing stages (120–180 ms) the right occipital-temporal cortex was more activated in response to animals than to artifacts as indexed by posterior N1 response, while frontal/central N1 (130–160) showed the opposite pattern. In the next processing stage (200–260) the response was stronger to artifacts and usable items at anterior temporal sites. The P300 component was smaller, and the central/parietal N400 component was larger to artifacts than to animals.
The effect of animal and artifact categorization emerged at ~150 ms over the right occipital-temporal area as a stronger response of the ventral stream to animate, homomorphic, entities with faces and legs. The larger frontal/central N1 and the subsequent temporal activation for inanimate objects might reflect the prevalence of a functional rather than perceptual representation of manipulable tools compared to animals. Late ERP effects might reflect semantic integration and cognitive updating processes. Overall, the data are compatible with a modality-specific semantic memory account, in which sensory and action-related semantic features are represented in modality-specific brain areas.
Recognizing an object requires binding together several cues, which may be distributed across different sensory modalities, and ignoring competing information originating from other objects. In addition, knowledge of the semantic category of an object is fundamental to determine how we should react to it. Here we investigate the role of semantic categories in the processing of auditory-visual objects.
We used an auditory-visual object-recognition task (go/no-go paradigm). We compared recognition times for two categories: a biologically relevant one (animals) and a non-biologically relevant one (means of transport). Participants were asked to react as fast as possible to target objects, presented in the visual and/or the auditory modality, and to withhold their response for distractor objects. A first main finding was that, when participants were presented with unimodal or bimodal congruent stimuli (an image and a sound from the same object), similar reaction times were observed for all object categories. Thus, there was no advantage in the speed of recognition for biologically relevant compared to non-biologically relevant objects. A second finding was that, in the presence of a biologically relevant auditory distractor, the processing of a target object was slowed down, whether or not it was itself biologically relevant. It seems impossible to effectively ignore an animal sound, even when it is irrelevant to the task.
These results suggest a specific and mandatory processing of animal sounds, possibly due to phylogenetic memory and consistent with the idea that hearing is particularly efficient as an alerting sense. They also highlight the importance of taking into account the auditory modality when investigating the way object concepts of biologically relevant categories are stored and retrieved.
The goals of this project were threefold: to determine the nature of the memory deficit in children/adolescents with dyslexia, to utilize clinical memory measures in this endeavor, and to determine the extent to which semantic short-term memory (STM) is related to basic reading performance. Two studies were conducted using different samples, one incorporating the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning and the other incorporating the California Verbal Learning Test-Children's Version. Results suggest that phonological STM is deficient in children with dyslexia, but semantic STM and visual–spatial STM are intact. Long-term memory (LTM) for both visual and verbal material also is intact. Regarding reading performance, semantic STM had small correlations with word identification and pseudoword decoding across studies despite phonological STM being moderately to strongly related to both basic reading skills. Overall, results are consistent with the phonological core deficit model of dyslexia as only phonological STM was affected in dyslexia and related to basic reading skill.
Dyslexia; Reading disabilities; Child; Adolescent; Short-term memory; Long-term memory
To test the hypothesis that different neurocognitive networks underlie verbal fluency deficits in frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD).
Letter (“FAS”) and semantic (“animal”) fluency tests were administered to patients with a behavioral/dysexecutive disorder (bvFTLD; n = 71), semantic dementia (SemD; n = 21), and progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA; n = 26). Tests measuring working memory, naming/lexical retrieval, and semantic knowledge were also obtained. MRI voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies were obtained on a subset of these patients (bvFTLD, n = 51; PNFA, n = 11; SemD, n = 10).
Patients with SemD were disproportionately impaired on the semantic fluency measure. Reduced output on this test was correlated with impaired performance on naming/lexical retrieval tests. VBM analyses related reduced letter and semantic fluency to anterior and inferior left temporal lobe atrophy. Patients with bvFTLD were equally impaired on both fluency tests. Poor performance on both fluency tests was correlated with low scores on working memory and naming/lexical retrieval measures. In this group, MRI-VBM analyses related letter fluency to bilateral frontal atrophy and semantic fluency to left frontal/temporal atrophy. Patients with PNFA were also equally impaired on fluency tests. Reduced semantic fluency output was correlated with reduced performance on naming/lexical retrieval tests. MRI-VBM analyses related semantic fluency to the right frontal lobe and letter fluency to left temporal atrophy.
Distinct neurocognitive networks underlie impaired performance on letter and semantic fluency tests in frontotemporal lobar degeneration subgroups.
= Alzheimer disease;
= analysis of variance;
= behavioral/dysexecutive subgroup;
= frontotemporal lobar degeneration;
= Mini-Mental State Examination;
= Montreal Neurological Institute;
= magnetic resonance;
= progressive nonfluent aphasia;
= semantic dementia;
= echo time;
= repetition time;
= voxel-based morphometry.
In Alzheimer's dementia (AD), letter fluency is less impaired than category fluency. To check whether category fluency and letter fluency depend differently on semantics and attention, 53 mild AD patients were given animal and letter fluency tasks, two semantic tests (the Verbal Semantic Questionnaire and the BORB Association Match test), and two attentional tests (the Stroop Colour-Word Interference test and the Digit Cancellation test).
We conducted a LISREL confirmatory factor analysis to check the extent to which category fluency and letter fluency tasks were related to semantics and attention, viewed as latent variables.
Both types of fluency tasks were related to the latent variable Semantics but not to the latent variable Attention.
Our findings warn against interpreting the disproportionate impairment of AD patients on category and letter fluency as a contrast between semantics and attention.
Language; Dementia; Verbal fluency; Semantics; Attention
The objective of our study is to introduce a fully automated, computational linguistic technique to quantify semantic relations between words generated on a standard semantic verbal fluency test and to determine its cognitive and clinical correlates. Cognitive differences between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment are evident in their performance on the semantic verbal fluency test. In addition to the semantic verbal fluency test score, several other performance characteristics sensitive to disease status and predictive of future cognitive decline have been defined in terms of words generated from semantically related categories (clustering) and shifting between categories (switching). However, the traditional assessment of clustering and switching has been performed manually in a qualitative fashion resulting in subjective scoring with limited reproducibility and scalability. Our approach uses word definitions and hierarchical relations between the words in WordNet®, a large electronic lexical database, to quantify the degree of semantic similarity and relatedness between words. We investigated the novel semantic fluency indices of mean cumulative similarity and relatedness between all pairs of words regardless of their order, and mean sequential similarity and relatedness between pairs of adjacent words in a sample of patients with clinically diagnosed probable (n=55) or possible (n=27) Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (n=31). The semantic fluency indices differed significantly between the diagnostic groups, and were strongly associated with neuropsychological tests of executive function, as well as the rate of global cognitive decline. Our results suggest that word meanings and relations between words shared across individuals and computationally modeled via WordNet and large text corpora provide the necessary context to account for the variability in language-based behavior and relate it to cognitive dysfunction observed in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
semantic verbal fluency; Alzheimer’s disease; mild cognitive impairment; semantic similarity; semantic relatedness; computational semantics
To investigate the neural correlates of verbal and non-verbal semantic processing in neurodegenerative disease.
Semantic memory is often impaired in neurodegenerative disease. Neuropsychological and functional neuroimaging studies suggest that the semantic processing of verbal and non-verbal stimuli may depend on partially distinct brain networks.
We examined this possibility using voxel-based morphometry to correlate performance on verbal and non-verbal versions of a semantic association task with regional gray matter atrophy in 144 individuals with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.
Results showed that, regardless of stimulus type, semantic processing correlated with atrophy in both temporal lobes. In addition, material-specific correlations were found in left temporal regions for verbal stimuli and the right fusiform gyrus for non-verbal stimuli.
These results provide evidence for a differential role of the left and right hemispheres in the extraction of semantic information from verbal and pictorial representations. Areas in the right inferior temporal lobe may be necessary to access structural descriptions of visually presented objects.
To compare verbal and visual memory performances between patients with bipolar I disorder (BD I) and patients with bipolar II disorder (BD II) and to determine whether memory deficits were mediated by impaired organizational strategies.
Performances on the Korean-California Verbal Learning Test (K-CVLT) and the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test (ROCF) in 37 patients with BD I, 46 patients with BD II and 42 healthy subjects were compared. Mediating effects of impaired organization strategies on poor delayed recall was tested by comparing direct and mediated models using multiple regression analysis.
Both patients groups recalled fewer words and figure components and showed lower Semantic Clustering compared to controls. Verbal memory impairment was partly mediated by difficulties in Semantic Clustering in both subtypes, whereas the mediating effect of Organization deficit on the visual memory impairment was present only in BD I. In all mediated models, group differences in delayed recall remained significant.
Our findings suggest that memory impairment may be one of the fundamental cognitive deficits in bipolar disorders and that executive dysfunctions can exert an additional influence on memory impairments.
Bipolar I disorder; Bipolar II disorder; Memory; Organization; Executive function; Path analysis
OBJECTIVE—To test the
hypothesis that semantic impairment is present in both patients with
dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and those with dementia of Alzheimer's
comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tasks designed to assess
semantic memory, visuoperceptual function, verbal fluency, and
recognition memory was given to groups of patients with DLB (n=10), DAT
(n=10) matched pairwise for age and mini mental state examination
(MMSE), and age matched normal controls (n=15).
RESULTS—Both DLB and
DAT groups exhibited impaired performance across the range of tasks
designed to assess semantic memory. Whereas patients with DAT showed
equivalent comprehension of written words and picture stimuli, patients
with DLB demonstrated more severe semantic deficits for pictures than
words. As in previous studies, patients with DLB but not those with DAT
were found to have impaired visuoperceptual functioning. Letter and
category fluency were equally reduced for the patients with DLB whereas
performance on letter fluency was significantly better in the DAT
group. Recognition memory for faces and words was impaired in both groups.
impairment is not limited to patients with DAT. Patients with DLB
exhibit particular problems when required to access meaning from
pictures that is most likely to arise from a combination of semantic
and visuoperceptual impairments.
Prior semantic knowledge facilitates episodic recognition memory for faces. To examine the neural manifestation of the interplay between semantic and episodic memory, we investigated neuroelectric dynamics during the creation (study) and the retrieval (test) of episodic memories for famous and nonfamous faces. Episodic memory effects were evident in several EEG frequency bands: theta (4–8 Hz), alpha (9–13 Hz), and gamma (40–100 Hz). Activity in these bands was differentially modulated by preexisting semantic knowledge and by episodic memory, implicating their different functional roles in memory. More specifically, theta activity and alpha suppression were larger for old compared to new faces at test regardless of fame, but were both larger for famous faces during study. This pattern of selective semantic effects suggests that the theta and alpha responses, which are primarily associated with episodic memory, reflect utilization of semantic information only when it is beneficial for task performance. In contrast, gamma activity decreased between the first (study) and second (test) presentation of a face, but overall was larger for famous than nonfamous faces. Hence, the gamma rhythm seems to be primarily related to activation of preexisting neural representations that may contribute to the formation of new episodic traces. Although the latter process is affected by the episodic status of a stimulus, gamma activity might not be a direct index of episodic memory. Taken together, these data provide new insights into the complex interaction between semantic and episodic memory for faces and the neural dynamics associated with mnemonic processes.
Based upon Damasio's “Convergence Zone” model of semantic memory, we predicted that epilepsy surgical patients with anterior temporal lobe (TL) seizure onset would exhibit a pattern of category-specific naming and recognition deficits not observed in patients with seizures arising elsewhere.
We assessed epilepsy patients with unilateral seizure onset of anterior TL or other origin (n = 22), pre- or postoperatively, using a set of category-specific items and a conventional measure of visual naming (Boston Naming Test: BNT).
Category-specific naming deficits were exhibited by patients with dominant anterior TL seizure onset/resection for famous faces and animals, while category-specific recognition deficits for these same categories were exhibited by patients with nondominant anterior TL onset/resection. Patients with other seizure onset did not exhibit category-specific deficits. Naming and recognition deficits were frequently not detected by the BNT, which samples only a limited range of stimuli.
Consistent with the “convergence zone” framework, results suggest that the nondominant anterior TL plays a major role in binding sensory information into conceptual percepts for certain stimuli, while dominant TL regions function to provide a link to verbal labels for these percepts. Although observed category-specific deficits were striking, they were often missed by the BNT, suggesting that they are more prevalent than recognized in both pre- and postsurgical epilepsy patients. Systematic investigation of these deficits could lead to more refined models of semantic memory, aid in the localization of seizures, and contribute to modifications in surgical technique and patient selection in epilepsy surgery to improve neurocognitive outcome.
semantic memory; temporal lobe epilepsy; category-specific deficits; epilepsy surgery; naming deficits
A controlled prospective study compared the performance of 14 patients with dementia of Alzheimer type (DAT) and 14 patients with Huntington's Disease (HD), who were matched for overall level of dementia, on a battery of semantic and episodic memory tests. The DAT patients were significantly more impaired on measures of delayed verbal and figural episodic memory, and in addition showed a more rapid rate of decline on tests which depend upon the integrity of semantic knowledge (naming, number information, similarities and category fluency). In contrast, the HD patients were significantly worse, and showed a more rapid decline on the letter fluency test, a task especially sensitive to deficiencies in retrieval. The HD patients were also more impaired than DAT patients on a vocabulary test and on copying geometric figures. The observed double dissociations offer compelling evidence that aetiologically distinct forms of dementing illness result in different patterns of cognitive impairment.
Semantic similarity effects provide critical insight into the organization of semantic knowledge and the nature of semantic processing. In the present study, we examined the dynamics of semantic similarity effects by using the visual world eyetracking paradigm. Four objects were shown on a computer monitor, and participants were instructed to click on a named object, during which time their gaze position was recorded. The likelihood of fixating competitor objects was predicted by the degree of semantic similarity to the target concept. We found reliable, graded competition that depended on degree of target–competitor similarity, even for distantly related items for which priming has not been found in previous priming studies. Time course measures revealed a consistently earlier fixation peak for near semantic neighbors relative to targets. Computational investigations with an attractor dynamical model, a spreading activation model, and a decision model revealed that a combination of excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms is required to obtain such peak timing, providing new constraints on models of semantic processing.