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Title: Exploring conceptual knowledge and name relearning in semantic dementia
Author: Mayberry, Emily Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 2708 8313
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis investigated the role of the anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) in conceptual knowledge and name relearning by studying people with semantic dementia (SD). People with SD have atrophy focussed on the ATLs and they exhibit a pan-modal semantic impairment (e.g., Hodges, Patterson, Oxbury, & Funnell, 1992). Recent evidence suggests that modality-invariant concept representations are built up in the ATLs and that these modality-invariant representations are crucial for abstracting away from the surface features of items in order to generalise conceptual information based on their core semantic similarity (e.g., Lambon Ralph & Patterson, 2008). In order to test this, two of the studies described in this thesis (Chapters 2 and 3) assessed semantic generalisation in people with SD. These studies showed that people with SD are less able to generalise conceptual information on the basis of the deeper semantic structure of concepts but instead are increasingly influenced by the superficial similarity of the items. These studies support the hypothesis that the modality-invariant representations formed in the ATLs are crucial for semantic-based generalisation. Previous SD relearning studies have reported relatively good learning but a lack of generalisation to untrained items, tasks, and/or contexts (i.e., under-generalisation). This has been interpreted based on the Complementary Learning Systems (CLS) (McClelland, McNaughton, & O'Reilly, 1995) to suggest that the neocortical semantic system no longer makes a meaningful contribution to relearning but instead relearning is primarily dependent upon the sparse representational medial temporal lobe (MTL) learning system. The studies described in two of the thesis chapters (Chapters 4 and 5) investigated the role of the underlying systems further and found that the neocortical semantic system does still contribute to relearning in SD (although its contribution is disordered and based on the degraded concept representations in the ATL) but there is a shift in the division of labour such that the MTL system takes over more of the work. Finally, in order to clarify the outcomes of relearning in SD, Chapter 6 reviewed all of the previous SD relearning studies and confirmed that people with SD are able to relearn the specific information that they study but that this relearning is rigid. The review and a subsequent re-analysis of the data from Chapters 4 and 5 also showed that relearning in SD can have negative side-effects as well as positive effects.
Supervisor: Lambon Ralph, Matthew ; Sage, Karen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: semantic dementia ; Complementary Learning Systems ; anterior temporal lobes ; semantic memory