Explaining semantic short-term memory deficits: Evidence for the critical role of semantic control

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The selective disruption of verbal short-term memory (STM) following brain damage has been influential in shaping theories of STM in the healthy brain. In particular, reports of patients showing impaired recall of verbal material in the short-term but essentially normal recall over longer periods (e.g., Warrington&Shallice, 1969) were a major motivation for the multi-component working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974). These investigations focused on the importance of phonological coding in short-term storage, with a key claim being that “pure” STM patients exhibited impaired.

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Neuropsychologia 49 (2011) 368381Contents lists available at ScienceDirectNeuropsychologiajournal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/neuropsychologiaExplaining semantic short-term memory decits: Evidence forthe critical role of semantic controlPaul Hoffman a, , Elizabeth Jefferies b , Matthew A. Lambon Ralph aabNeuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit (NARU), University of Manchester, UKUniversity of York, UKa r t i c l ei n f oArticle history:Received 5 March 2010Received in revised form 13 October 2010Accepted 22 December 2010Available online 30 December 2010Keywords:Short-term memoryCognitive controlSemantic knowledgeSemantic aphasiaa b s t r a c tPatients with apparently selective short-term memory (STM) decits for semantic information haveplayed an important role in developing multi-store theories of STM and challenge the idea that verbal STMis supported by maintaining activation in the language system. We propose that semantic STM decitsare not as selective as previously thought and can occur as a result of mild disruption to semantic controlprocesses, i.e., mechanisms that bias semantic processing towards task-relevant aspects of knowledgeand away from irrelevant information. We tested three semantic STM patients with tasks that tappedfour aspects of semantic control: (i) resolving ambiguity between word meanings, (ii) sensitivity to cues,(iii) ignoring irrelevant information and (iv) detecting weak semantic associatio

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