Small Semantic Networks in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder Without Intellectual Impairment: A Verbal Fluency Approach.
ABSTRACT: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience a variety of symptoms sometimes including atypicalities in language use. The study explored differences in semantic network organisation of adults with ASD without intellectual impairment. We assessed clusters and switches in verbal fluency tasks ('animals', 'human feature', 'verbs', 'r-words') via curve fitting in combination with corpus-driven analysis of semantic relatedness and evaluated socio-emotional and motor action related content. Compared to participants without ASD (n?=?39), participants with ASD (n?=?32) tended to produce smaller clusters, longer switches, and fewer words in semantic conditions (no p values survived Bonferroni-correction), whereas relatedness and content were similar. In ASD, semantic networks underlying cluster formation appeared comparably small without affecting strength of associations or content.
Project description:For word production, we may consciously pursue semantic or phonological search strategies, but it is uncertain whether we can retrieve the different aspects of lexical information independently from each other. We therefore studied the spread of semantic information into words produced under exclusively phonemic task demands.42 subjects participated in a letter verbal fluency task, demanding the production of as many s-words as possible in two minutes. Based on curve fittings for the time courses of word production, output spurts (temporal clusters) considered to reflect rapid lexical retrieval based on automatic activation spread, were identified. Semantic and phonemic word relatedness within versus between these clusters was assessed by respective scores (0 meaning no relation, 4 maximum relation).Subjects produced 27.5 (±9.4) words belonging to 6.7 (±2.4) clusters. Both phonemically and semantically words were more related within clusters than between clusters (phon: 0.33±0.22 vs. 0.19±0.17, p<.01; sem: 0.65±0.29 vs. 0.37±0.29, p<.01). Whereas the extent of phonemic relatedness correlated with high task performance, the contrary was the case for the extent of semantic relatedness.The results indicate that semantic information spread occurs, even if the consciously pursued word search strategy is purely phonological. This, together with the negative correlation between semantic relatedness and verbal output suits the idea of a semantic default mode of lexical search, acting against rapid task performance in the given scenario of phonemic verbal fluency. The simultaneity of enhanced semantic and phonemic word relatedness within the same temporal cluster boundaries suggests an interaction between content and sound-related information whenever a new semantic field has been opened.
Project description:A computational approach for estimating several indices of performance on the animal category verbal fluency task was validated, and examined in a large longitudinal study of aging. The performance indices included the traditional verbal fluency score, size of semantic clusters, density of repeated words, as well as measures of semantic and lexical diversity. Change over time in these measures was modeled using mixed effects regression in several groups of participants, including those that remained cognitively normal throughout the study (CN) and those that were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer's disease (AD) dementia at some point subsequent to the baseline visit. The results of the study show that, with the exception of mean cluster size, the indices showed significantly greater declines in the MCI and AD dementia groups as compared to CN participants. Examination of associations between the indices and cognitive domains of memory, attention and visuospatial functioning showed that the traditional verbal fluency scores were associated with declines in all three domains, whereas semantic and lexical diversity measures were associated with declines only in the visuospatial domain. Baseline repetition density was associated with declines in memory and visuospatial domains. Examination of lexical and semantic diversity measures in subgroups with high vs. low attention scores (but normal functioning in other domains) showed that the performance of individuals with low attention was influenced more by word frequency rather than strength of semantic relatedness between words. These findings suggest that various automatically semantic indices may be used to examine various aspects of cognitive performance affected by dementia.
Project description:In verbal fluency (VF) tests, subjects articulate words in a specified category during a short test period (typically 60 s). Verbal fluency tests are widely used to study language development and to evaluate memory retrieval in neuropsychiatric disorders. Performance is usually measured as the total number of correct words retrieved. Here, we describe the properties of a computerized VF (C-VF) test that tallies correct words and repetitions while providing additional lexical measures of word frequency, syllable count, and typicality. In addition, the C-VF permits (1) the analysis of the rate of responding over time, and (2) the analysis of the semantic relationships between words using a new method, Explicit Semantic Analysis (ESA), as well as the established semantic clustering and switching measures developed by Troyer et al. (1997). In Experiment 1, we gathered normative data from 180 subjects ranging in age from 18 to 82 years in semantic ("animals") and phonemic (letter "F") conditions. The number of words retrieved in 90 s correlated with education and daily hours of computer-use. The rate of word production declined sharply over time during both tests. In semantic conditions, correct-word scores correlated strongly with the number of ESA and Troyer-defined semantic switches as well as with an ESA-defined semantic organization index (SOI). In phonemic conditions, ESA revealed significant semantic influences in the sequence of words retrieved. In Experiment 2, we examined the test-retest reliability of different measures across three weekly tests in 40 young subjects. Different categories were used for each semantic ("animals", "parts of the body", and "foods") and phonemic (letters "F", "A", and "S") condition. After regressing out the influences of education and computer-use, we found that correct-word z-scores in the first session did not differ from those of the subjects in Experiment 1. Word production was uniformly greater in semantic than phonemic conditions. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) of correct-word z-scores were higher for phonemic (0.91) than semantic (0.77) tests. In semantic conditions, good reliability was also seen for the SOI (ICC = 0.68) and ESA-defined switches in semantic categories (ICC = 0.62). In Experiment 3, we examined the performance of subjects from Experiment 2 when instructed to malinger: 38% showed abnormal (p< 0.05) performance in semantic conditions. Simulated malingerers with abnormal scores could be distinguished with 80% sensitivity and 89% specificity from subjects with abnormal scores in Experiment 1 using lexical, temporal, and semantic measures. In Experiment 4, we tested patients with mild and severe traumatic brain injury (mTBI and sTBI). Patients with mTBI performed within the normal range, while patients with sTBI showed significant impairments in correct-word z-scores and category shifts. The lexical, temporal, and semantic measures of the C-VF provide an automated and comprehensive description of verbal fluency performance.
Project description:Individuals with autism show difficulties in using sentence context to identify the correct meaning of ambiguous words, such as homonyms. In this study, the brain basis of sentence context effects on word understanding during reading was examined in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typical development (TD) using magnetoencephalography. The correlates of a history of developmental language delay in ASD were also investigated. Event related field responses at early (150 ms after the onset of a final word) and N400 latencies are reported for three different types of sentence final words: dominant homonyms, subordinate homonyms, and unambiguous words. Clear evidence for semantic access was found at both early and conventional N400 latencies in both TD participants and individuals with ASD with no history of language delay. By contrast, modulation of evoked activity related to semantic access was weak and not significant at early latencies in individuals with ASD with a history of language delay. The reduced sensitivity to semantic context in individuals with ASD and language delay was accompanied by strong right hemisphere lateralization at early and N400 latencies; such strong activity was not observed in TD individuals and individuals with ASD without a history of language delay at either latency. These results provide new evidence and support for differential neural mechanisms underlying semantic processing in ASD, and indicate that delayed language acquisition in ASD is associated with different lateralization and processing of language.
Project description:Background:Animal fluency is a widely used task to assess people with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other neurological disorders. The mechanisms that drive performance in this task are argued to rely on language and executive functions. However, there is little information regarding what specific aspects of these cognitive processes drive performance on this task. Objective:To understand which aspects of language (i.e., semantics, phonological output lexicon, phonological assembly) and executive function (i.e., mental set shifting; information updating and monitoring; inhibition of possible responses) are involved in the performance of animal fluency in people with AD. Methods:Animal fluency data from 58 people with probable AD from the DementiaBank Pittsburgh Corpus were analyzed. Number of clusters and switches were measured and nine word properties (e.g., frequency, familiarity) for each of the correct words (i.e., each word counting toward the total score, disregarding non-animals and repetitions) were determined. Random forests were used to understand which variables predicted the total number of correct words, and conditional inference trees were used to search for interactions between the variables. Finally, Wilcoxon tests were implemented to cross-validate the results, by comparing the performance of participants with scores below the norm in animal fluency against participants with scores within the norm based on a large normative sample. Results:Switches and age of acquisition emerged as the most important variables to predict total number of correct words in animal fluency in people with AD. Cross-validating the results, people with AD whose animal fluency scores fell below the norm produced fewer switches and words with lower age of acquisition than people with AD with scores in the normal range. Conclusion:The results indicate that people with AD rely on executive functioning (information updating and monitoring) and language (phonological output lexicon, not necessarily semantics) to produce words on animal fluency.
Project description:Several studies indicate the functional importance of the motor cortex for higher cognition, language and semantic processing, and place the neural substrate of these processes in sensorimotor action-perception circuits linking motor, sensory and perisylvian language regions. Interestingly, in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), semantic processing of action and emotion words seems to be impaired and is associated with hypoactivity of the motor cortex during semantic processing. In this study, the relationship between semantic processing, fine motor skills and clinical symptoms was investigated in 19 individuals with ASD and 22 typically-developing matched controls. Participants completed two semantic decision tasks involving words from different semantic categories, a test of alexithymia (the Toronto Alexithymia Scale), and a test of fine motor skills (the Purdue Pegboard Test). A significant Group × Word Category interaction in accuracy (p < 0.05) demonstrated impaired semantic processing for action words, but not object words in the autistic group. There was no significant group difference when processing abstract emotional words or abstract neutral words. Moreover, our study revealed deficits in fine motor skills as well as evidence for alexithymia in the ASD group, but not in neurotypical controls. However, these motor deficits did not correlate significantly with impairments in action-semantic processing. We interpret the data in terms of an underlying dysfunction of the action-perception system in ASD and its specific impact on semantic language processing.
Project description:Sleep is known to support the neocortical consolidation of declarative memory, including the acquisition of new language. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often characterized by both sleep and language learning difficulties, but few studies have explored a potential connection between the two. Here, 54 children with and without ASD (matched on age, nonverbal ability and vocabulary) were taught nine rare animal names (e.g., pipa). Memory was assessed via definitions, naming and speeded semantic decision tasks immediately after learning (pre-sleep), the next day (post-sleep, with a night of polysomnography between pre- and post-sleep tests) and roughly 1 month later (follow-up). Both groups showed comparable performance at pre-test and similar levels of overnight change on all tasks; but at follow-up children with ASD showed significantly greater forgetting of the unique features of the new animals (e.g., pipa is a flat frog). Children with ASD had significantly lower central non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sigma power. Associations between spindle properties and overnight changes in speeded semantic decisions differed by group. For the TD group, spindle duration predicted overnight changes in responses to novel animals but not familiar animals, reinforcing a role for sleep in the stabilization of new semantic knowledge. For the ASD group, sigma power and spindle duration were associated with improvements in responses to novel and particularly familiar animals, perhaps reflecting more general sleep-associated improvements in task performance. Plausibly, microstructural sleep atypicalities in children with ASD and differences in how information is prioritized for consolidation may lead to cumulative consolidation difficulties, compromising the quality of newly formed semantic representations in long-term memory.
Project description:Bipolar disorder (BD) is characterized by speech abnormalities, reflected by symptoms such as pressure of speech in mania and poverty of speech in depression. Here we aimed at investigating speech abnormalities in different episodes of BD, including mixed episodes, via process-oriented measures of verbal fluency performance - i.e., word and error count, semantic and phonological clustering measures, and number of switches-, and their relation to neurocognitive mechanisms and clinical symptoms. 93 patients with BD - i.e., 25 manic, 12 mixed manic, 19 mixed depression, 17 depressed, and 20 euthymic-and 31 healthy controls were administered three verbal fluency tasks - free, letter, semantic-and a clinical and neuropsychological assessment. Compared to depression and euthymia, switching and clustering abnormalities were found in manic and mixed states, mimicking symptoms like flight of ideas. Moreover, the neuropsychological results, as well as the fact that error count did not increase whereas phonological associations did, showed that impaired inhibition abilities and distractibility could not account for the results in patients with manic symptoms. Rather, semantic overactivation in patients with manic symptoms, including mixed depression, may compensate for trait-like deficient semantic retrieval/access found in euthymia. "For those who are manic, or those who have a history of mania, words move about in all directions possible, in a three-dimensional 'soup', making retrieval more fluid, less predictable." Kay Redfield Jamison (2017, p. 279).
Project description:In this paper, we investigate the robustness of electrophysiological responses of relatedness to multiple consecutive word stimuli (probes), in relation to an actively recollected target word. Such relatedness information could be used by a Brain Computer Interface to infer the active semantic concept on a user's mind, by integrating the knowledge of the relationship between the multiple probe words and the 'unknown' target. Such a BCI can take advantage of the N400: an event related potential that is sensitive to semantic content of a stimulus in relation to an established semantic context. However, it is unknown whether the N400 is suited for the multiple probing paradigm we propose, as other intervening words might distract from the established context (i.e., the target word). We perform an experiment in which we present up to ten words after an initial target word, and find no attenuation of the strength of the N400 in grand average ERPs and no decrease in classification accuracy for probes occurring later in the sequences. These results are groundwork for developing a BCI that infers the concept on a user's mind through repeated probing, however, low single trial decoding accuracy, and high subject variability may limit practical applicability.
Project description:The neurophysiological mechanisms underlying motor and language difficulties in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are still largely unclear. The present work investigates biological indicators of sound processing, (action-) semantic understanding and predictive coding and their correlation with clinical symptoms of ASD. Twenty-two adults with high-functioning ASD and 25 typically developed (TD) participants engaged in an auditory, passive listening, Mismatch Negativity (MMN) task while high-density electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded. Action and non-action words were presented in the context of sounds, which were either semantically congruent with regard to the body part they relate to or semantically incongruent or unrelated. The anticipatory activity before sound onset, the Prediction Potential (PP), was significantly reduced in the ASD group specifically for action, but not for non-action sounds. The early-MMN-like responses to words (latency: 120 ms) were differentially modulated across groups: controls showed larger amplitudes for words in action-sound compared to non-action contexts, whereas ASD participants demonstrated enlarged early-MMN-like responses only in a pure tone context, with no other modulation dependent on action sound context. Late-MMN-like responses around 560 ms post-stimulus onset revealed body-part-congruent action-semantic priming for words in control participants, but not in the ASD group. Importantly, neurophysiological indices of semantic priming in ASD participants correlated with the extent of autistic traits as revealed by the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). The data suggest that high-functioning adults with ASD show a specific deficit in semantic processing and predictive coding of sounds and words related to action, which is absent for neutral, non-action, sounds.