The Access and Processing of Familiar Idioms by Brain-Damaged and Normally Aging Adults Idiom interpretation tasks are routinely used in the clinical evaluation of adults with brain damage, and idiom processing has received increasing attention in the psycholinguistic literature. Clinical evidence suggests that adults with unilateral right-hemisphere damage (RHD) are insensitive to nonliteral meanings conveyed by idiomatic expressions and other figurative forms. However, ... Research Article
Research Article  |   June 01, 1992
The Access and Processing of Familiar Idioms by Brain-Damaged and Normally Aging Adults
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Connie A. Tompkins
    Department of Communication University of Pittsburgh
  • Richard Boada
    Department of Communication University of Pittsburgh
  • Kathrine McGarry
    Department of Communication University of Pittsburgh
Article Information
Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   June 01, 1992
The Access and Processing of Familiar Idioms by Brain-Damaged and Normally Aging Adults
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1992, Vol. 35, 626-637. doi:10.1044/jshr.3503.626
History: Received April 9, 1991 , Accepted October 9, 1991
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 1992, Vol. 35, 626-637. doi:10.1044/jshr.3503.626
History: Received April 9, 1991; Accepted October 9, 1991

Idiom interpretation tasks are routinely used in the clinical evaluation of adults with brain damage, and idiom processing has received increasing attention in the psycholinguistic literature. Clinical evidence suggests that adults with unilateral right-hemisphere damage (RHD) are insensitive to nonliteral meanings conveyed by idiomatic expressions and other figurative forms. However, this portrayal is derived from their terminal responses to tasks that reflect multiple aspects of mental operations (off-line measures), obscuring the source of poor performance. This study used an on-line word-monitoring task to assess RHD, left-hemisphere-damaged, and normally aging adults' implicit knowledge of familiar idiomatic expressions. Brain-damaged subjects performed similarly to normal controls on this task, even though the clinical subjects fared poorly by comparison on an off-line idiom definition measure. These results suggest that adults with unilateral brain damage can activate and retrieve familiar idiomatic forms, and that their idiom-interpretation deficits most likely reflect impairment at some later stage of information processing. Further, error analysis of idiom-definition performance did not support the customary characterization of RHD adults as excessively literal responders The paper discusses clinical implications of the nature and use of idiom interpretation tasks.

Acknowledg merits
This work was supported by Grant # DC00453 from the National Institutes of Health. We appreciate the assistance of Jennifer Jones and Kris Spencer with various aspects of data collection and analysis. We are grateful to Harmarville Rehabilitation Center and the Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh for subject referrals and hearing screenings. Thanks also to Hiram Brownell and Mick McNeil, who provided valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
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