Processing complexity and sentence memory: Evidence from amnesia

Lewis P. Shapiro, Patrick McNamara, Edgar Zurif, Susan Lanzoni, Laird Cermak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines sentence memory as a function of linguistic processing complexity in amnesic patients. Sentence length as well as lexical and syntactic complexity were manipulated in two sentence repetition experiments. It was found that the amnesic patients performed considerably worse than the control subjects and that performance decreased: (1) when sentence length was increased by the addition of adjuncts compared to arguments of the verb; (2) when the verb selected more thematic frames; and (3) when sentences involved "empty" argument positions that must be linked to antecedents, particularly across clausal boundaries. These data showed how linguistic complexity affects sentence memory and implied that the amnesic deficit did not involve a generalized difficulty for materials of similar length, rather, the deficit was specific to certain representational types and processing routines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-453
Number of pages23
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1992
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by NIH Grants DCO0494, DCOOO81, and NS26985. We thank Chris Barry and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Lewis P. Shapiro at the Department of Psychology, and Center for Complex Systems, Florida Atlanta University, Boca Raton, FL 33431. e-mail:ShapiroL@fauvax.


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