Deficient intentional access to semantic knowledge in patients with severe closed-head injury

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Patients after severe closed-head injury (CHI) demonstrate reduced ability to spontaneously utilize semantic memory during word-list memory tests and when requested to answer questions regarding general knowledge. However, they show normal lexical facilitation in both automatic and intentional semantic priming paradigms. The present study was aimed at investigating two alternative hypotheses a) that the deficit in semantic processing after CHI is the result of impaired access to an otherwise normal semantic system or b) that it reflects a loss of knowledge from a deteriorated semantic store. For this purpose, the performance of 15 CHI patients on an automatic Semantic Priming paradigm and on tests of Picture Naming and Semantic Judgment were compared to those of 14 normal controls (NC). Although CHI patients' reaction times were significantly slower than those of NCs, the semantic priming effect was comparable in the two groups. Instead, CHI patients performed significantly worse than NCs in the naming and semantic judgment tasks. These results provide evidence that CHI patients access semantic memory automatically at a normal rate. However, when the task is more demanding in terms of processing requests, then CHI patients' performance becomes defective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-225
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Closed head injury
  • Priming
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience(all)


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