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Brain Lang. 1990 Feb;38(2):315-33.

The effects of right hemisphere damage on the pragmatic interpretation of conversational remarks.

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University of California, Berkeley.


The ability to interpret conversational utterances was assessed in a group of 12 male patients with unilateral right hemisphere brain damage (RHD) and 12 non-brain-damaged, age-matched male control subjects. Subjects listened to short vignettes which described both the affective tone of the relationship between a speaker and an actor, and the actor's performance on a task. Each vignette concluded with the speaker characterizing the actor's performance. In half of the items, the speaker's utterance was literally true; in the other half, the utterance was literally false and invited a nonliteral interpretation. Results showed no appreciable differences in the performance of control subjects and RHD patients when interpreting literally true utterances. In contrast, the two groups differed reliably when interpreting the pragmatic intent of nonliteral utterances: Control subjects used information about both the actor's performance and the speaker-actor relationship, while RHD patients demonstrated difficulty in using the information about the speaker-actor relationship. Results have implications for patients' understanding of essential elements of conversations, such as characters' internal states and their intentions in employing different forms of literal and nonliteral language.

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