Walking but not barking improves verb recovery: Implications for action observation treatment in aphasia rehabilitation

Paola Marangolo, Susanna Cipollari, Valentina Fiori, Carmela Razzano, Carlo Caltagirone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies have shown that action observation treatment without concomitant verbal cue has a positive impact on the recovery of verb retrieval deficits in aphasic patients. In agreement with an embodied cognition viewpoint, a hypothesis has been advanced that gestures and language form a single communication system and words whose retrieval is facilitated by gestures are semantically represented through sensory-motor features. However, it is still an open question as to what extent this treatment approach works. Results from the recovery of motor deficits have suggested that action observation promotes motor recovery only for actions that are part of the motor repertoire of the observer. The aim of the present experiment was to further investigate the role of action observation treatment in verb recovery. In particular, we contrasted the effects induced by observing human actions (e.g. dancing, kicking, pointing, eating) versus non human actions (e.g. barking, printing). Seven chronic aphasic patients with a selective deficit in verb retrieval underwent an intensive rehabilitation training that included five daily sessions over two consecutive weeks. Each subject was asked to carefully observe 115 video-clips of actions, one at a time and, after observing them, they had to produce the corresponding verb. Two groups of actions were randomly presented: humans versus nonhuman actions. In all patients, significant improvement in verb retrieval was found only by observing video-clips of human actions. Moreover, follow-up testing revealed long-term verb recovery that was still present two months after the two treatments had ended. In support of the multimodal concept representation's proposal, we suggest that just the observation of actions pertaining to the human motor repertoire is an effective rehabilitation approach for verb recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere38610
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 13 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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