Errorless and errorful therapy for

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Errorless and errorful therapy for

verb and noun naming in aphasia

Paul Conroy

Karen Sage &

Matthew A. Lambon Ralph

Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit (NARU)

School of Psychological Sciences

University of Manchester UK

Submitted to:

Neuropsychological Rehabilitation

Correspondence to:

Paul Conroy or Prof. M.A. Lambon Ralph

Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit (NARU)

School of Psychological Sciences

University of Manchester

Oxford Road


M13 9PL

Email: or

Tel: 0161 275 2551

Fax: 0161 275 2873


This work is supported by a Research Bursary from the Stroke Association

(TSAB 2004/01).


The aphasiological literature has provided an extensive body of research on verb impairments but many fewer verb therapy studies. Verbs display particular complexity at various levels of linguistic analysis: phonological, morphological, semantic and syntactic. Verb impairments can arise at any of these levels of processing as well as from cognitive sources. Errorless learning has been used with positive results for noun therapies. Given the high linguistic and cognitive demands of verb processing, this study investigated whether errorless therapy would be more effective for verb naming than more traditional hierarchical cueing (relatively errorful) therapy. Nine participants with word-finding difficulties as a part of their chronic aphasia took part. Like previous studies, we found that errorless therapy was as effective as errorful therapy for both verb and noun naming. Three participants with severer aphasia showed significantly greater gains in noun as opposed to verb naming. The remaining participants exhibited comparable gains in both nouns and verb naming. There was no lasting generalisation from treated to untreated therapy items. In conclusion, errorless therapy for verb and noun naming was a time-efficient and effective therapy method for a range of participants with varying naming skills and types of aphasia.


There have been a limited number of published verb therapy studies in the aphasiological literature. Yet the theoretical literature on verb impairments has provided a rich set of findings about the nature of verbs which could directly inform therapy studies (Conroy, Sage, & Lambon Ralph, 2006) . There have been challenges, however, in attempting to devise theory-driven verb therapies. Firstly, in comparison with nouns (which serve as the usual focus of attention in naming therapy studies), verbs display greater complexity at various levels of linguistic analysis: phonological, morphological, semantic and syntactic (Black & Chiat, 2003). This means that verbs tend to be inherently more difficult as therapy targets for many people with aphasia. Secondly, verb impairments have been shown to arise from one or many linguistic and cognitive sources. These have included semantic, syntactic and phonological processing deficits as well as cognitive sources such as executive dysfunction (Silveri, Salvigni, Cappa, Della Vedova, & Puopolo, 2003) or impairments in ‘thinking for speaking’ (Marshall & Cairns, 2005).

There has been a tendency for verb therapies to be directed to participants with non-fluent aphasia and conversely, noun therapies to those with fluent aphasia (Conroy et al., 2006). Traditionally, agrammatic nonfluent aphasia has been associated with relatively poorer verb than noun production. The opposite pattern (noun < verb production) has been associated with fluent aphasia sub-types such as anomic and Wernicke’s aphasia. However, a recent large group study (Luzzatti et al., 2001) found that relative performance in noun and verb naming corresponded only loosely with aphasia classification. While non-fluent aphasic speakers showed a tendency to perform more poorly with verbs, some did not. The picture was more mixed with fluent aphasia, where there was a tendency, albeit weaker, to perform worse with nouns. The key point arising from this study is that noun-verb dissociations are only relative and so verb therapies are needed for many people with aphasia, irrespective of classification.
Verb naming studies have either compared verb against noun therapies (Pashek, 1998; Wambaugh, Doyle, Martinez, & Kalinyak-Fliszar, 2002; Wambaugh et al., 2001) or examined the effects of verb therapy on related skills such as sentence production (Edwards, Tucker, & McCann, 2004; Marshall, Pring, & Chiat, 1998; Mitchum & Berndt, 1994; Raymer & Ellsworth, 2002). All of these studies found little or no generalisation from treated to untreated verbs. Three studies concluded that verb therapy was beneficial for their participants with regard to sentence production (Edwards et al., 2004; Marshall et al., 1998; Raymer & Ellsworth, 2002), while one did not (Mitchum & Berndt, 1994). A further distinct group of studies has focused on verb and argument structure therapies (Fink, Martin, Schwartz, Saffran, & Myers, 1992; Murray & Karcher, 2000; Schneider & Thompson, 2003; Webster, Morris, & Franklin, 2005). These differed from verb naming studies in that they trained production of verbs and key nouns in sentences; in other words, the verb and its argument structure.
Potential treatment implications have emerged from theoretical accounts of verb impairments. The notion of minimising errors in the therapy process has been investigated recently in noun-naming studies (Fillingham, Sage, & Lambon Ralph, 2005, 2005a, 2005b). Given the relatively high cognitive and language demands of verb processing, minimising errors during therapy could be particularly helpful. For example, verb naming has been shown to demand greater cognitive processing with respect to selecting between competing items, in particular at the conceptual and morphological levels. At the conceptual level, it has been argued that nouns (particularly object names) have a relatively “tight fit” between their word form and meaning but, because verbs depict actions, processes, events and states, involving temporal relations, they have a “looser fit” between word form and the meaning they represent (Black & Chiat, 2003). At the morphological level, fMRI studies have shown that verbs evoke more activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus than nouns (Tyler, Bright, Fletcher, & Stamatakis, 2004). Tyler et al. noted that the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex is associated with tasks involving selecting between competing items and attributed the differential activation in this region to the greater morphological complexity in verb processing.
Errorless learning has had a history of successful application to learning across a wide range of both clinical and non-clinical domains (Fillingham, Hodgson, Sage, & Lambon Ralph, 2003). Most notably, there has been a substantial literature describing errorless learning techniques in the rehabilitation of memory impairments (Baddeley & Wilson, 1993; Clare et al., 2000; Komatsu, Mimura, Kato, Wakamatsu, & Kashima, 2000; Tailby & Haslam, 2003; Wilson, Baddeley, Evans, & Shiel, 1994; Wilson & Evans, 1996). Errorless learning has also been shown to be effective in speech perception and production training in non-brain damaged participants (McCandliss, Fiez, Protopapas, Conway, & McClelland, 2002), and in computational simulations of language processing (McClelland, Thomas, McCandliss, & Fiez, 1999).
In recent years, there have been a growing number of studies investigating the efficacy of errorless learning for aphasia therapy, particularly for aphasic word-finding difficulties. A series of studies by Fillingham and colleagues found that errorless therapy was as effective as traditional hierarchical cueing (errorful) therapy (Fillingham et al., 2005, 2005a, 2005b). Other contemporaneous studies found that errorful therapy may be more effective in some cases (Abel, Schultz, Radermacher, Willmes, & Huber, 2005). Direct comparison between these studies reveals that there were differences in the therapy methods and that these might be the root of the variation in results. Fillingham et al. used a relatively ‘pure’ form of errorless learning by presenting participants with object pictures together with both their phonological and orthographic word forms, and requesting immediate repetition (with the participants selected to have minimal repetition impairment). Even this technique was not completely pure, as a few errors inevitably occurred. In contrast, Abel et al. compared increasing cues in therapy (hierarchical cueing, starting with the more minimal cue first) against decreasing cues (starting with whole word repetition but reducing the quantity of cues through therapy, thereby allowing more errors to emerge). Abel et al. predicted that decreasing cues may have been more beneficial for participants with severe naming disorders in that it prevented them from producing such frequent errors. Their results, however, showed no participant improving in the decreasing cues only condition, some who showed positive effects with both increasing and decreasing cues, and several participants who showed positive effects with increasing cues only. This led Abel et al. to conclude that “patients with aphasia do not seem to be hampered by their own errors.” (p.845).
Given these slightly divergent results, one of the aims of the present study was to take a new aphasic case-series and to compare errorless and errorful therapies in an attempt to replicate the results from Fillingham et al. In addition to object naming, we extended the study to include action naming, given that the theoretical literature indicates that verbs may be more demanding both cognitively and linguistically (see above). Given the lack of overall differences reported in the Fillingham et al. errorless versus errorful therapy studies on noun-naming, we aimed to contrast the two types of therapies more strongly, through an extended form of hierarchical cueing with trial and error naming (see Method).


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