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Cortex. 2009 Jun;45(6):738-58. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2008.10.003. Epub 2008 Nov 1.

Noun and verb differences in picture naming: past studies and new evidence.

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Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, Chandler House, London, UK.


We re-examine the double dissociation view of noun-verb differences by critically reviewing past lesion studies reporting selective noun or verb deficits in picture naming, and reporting the results of a new picture naming study carried out with aphasic patients and comparison participants. Since there are theoretical arguments and empirical evidence that verb processing is more demanding than noun processing, in the review we distinguished between cases that presented with large and small differences between nouns and verbs. We argued that the latter cases may be accounted for in terms of greater difficulty in processing verbs than nouns. For the cases reporting large differences between nouns and verbs we assessed consistency in lesion localization and consistency in diagnostic classification. More variability both in terms of diagnostic category and lesion sites was found among the verb impaired than the noun impaired patients. In the experimental study, nine aphasic patients and nine age matched neurologically unimpaired individuals carried out a picture naming study that used a large set of materials matched for age of acquisition and in addition to accuracy measures, latencies were also recorded. Despite the patients' variable language deficits, diagnostic category and the matched materials, all patients performed faster and more accurately in naming the object than the action pictures. The comparison participants performed similarly. We also carried out a qualitative analysis of the errors patients made and showed that different types of errors were made in response to object and action pictures. We concluded that action naming places more and different demands on the language processor than object naming. The conclusions of the literature review and the results of the experimental study are discussed in relation to claims previous studies have made on the basis of the double dissociation found between nouns and verbs. We argue that these claims are only justified when it can be shown that the impairments to the two categories occur for the same underlying reason and that the differences between the two categories are large.

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