Verb retrieval in brain-damaged subjects: 1. Analysis of stimulus, lexical, and conceptual factors

Brain Lang. 2000 Jul;73(3):347-92. doi: 10.1006/brln.2000.2311.


Verb retrieval for action naming was assessed in 53 brain-damaged subjects by administering a standardized test with 100 items. The goal of the study was to gain further insight into the nature of verb processing impairments by investigating the influence of several kinds of stimulus, lexical, and conceptual factors on the subjects' performance at the level of group tendencies and also at the level of individual differences. (1) Stimulus factors: visual complexity, familiarity, image agreement, and one vs. two pictures (which corresponds to ongoing vs. completed actions); (2) lexical factors: name agreement, verb frequency, and whether the root of the target verb has a homophonous noun; (3) conceptual factors: whether the action is done with the hand or the body, whether the action involves one or two core participants, whether the undergoer of the action has a change of internal state, whether the undergoer has a change of spatial location, and whether the actor makes use of an instrument in carrying out the action. The subjects were divided into an impaired group (n = 19) and an unimpaired group (n = 34) on the basis of their overall performance on the test. For both groups of subjects, verb retrieval was significantly affected by the following factors: familiarity, image agreement, name agreement, homophonous noun, and undergoer change of location. These results indicate that, at the level of group analysis, some factors have a stronger influence on verb retrieval for action naming than others. Moreover, the finding that the two groups exhibited the same general pattern of factor sensitivity suggests that although the processing efficiency of the mechanisms that subserve verb retrieval is degraded in the impaired group, the basic functional properties of these mechanisms may not be qualitatively very different from those of the unimpaired group. Further analyses were conducted at the level of individual subjects and revealed a considerable amount of variation with regard to factor sensitivity. Many patterns of associations and dissociations of factors were found across the subjects, which suggests that the task of retrieving verbs for naming actions is quite complex and that different subjects can be influenced by different properties of both the stimuli and the target verbs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linguistics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged