Assessing abstract thought and its relation to language with a new nonverbal paradigm: Evidence from aphasia

Cognition 211:104622 (2021)
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In recent years, language has been shown to play a number of important cognitive roles over and above the communication of thoughts. One hypothesis gaining support is that language facilitates thought about abstract categories, such as democracy or prediction. To test this proposal, a novel set of semantic memory task trials, designed for assessing abstract thought non-linguistically, were normed for levels of abstractness. The trials were rated as more or less abstract to the degree that answering them required the participant to abstract away from both perceptual features and common setting associations corresponding to the target image. The normed materials were then used with a population of people with aphasia to assess the relationship of abstract thought to language. While the language-impaired group with aphasia showed lower overall accuracy and longer response times than controls in general, of special note is that their response times were significantly longer as a function of a trial’s degree of abstractness. Further, the aphasia group’s response times in reporting their degree of confidence (a separate, metacognitive measure) were negatively correlated with their language production abilities, with lower language scores predicting longer metacognitive response times. These results provide some support for the hypothesis that language is an important aid to abstract thought and to metacognition about abstract thought.
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Archival date: 2021-02-04
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