Story processing in patients with damage to the prefrontal cortex

Tiziana Zalla*, Michael Phipps, Jordan Grafman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The prefrontal cortex is known to be involved in performing complex cognitive tasks requiring reasoning, planning and decision-making. Neuropsychological evidence also supports the idea that the prefrontal cortex is generally involved in encoding and retrieving complex events, such as action and narrative knowledge. Patients with frontal lobe damage are reported to have difficulty in processing different aspects of narrative representations, such as the figurative moral meaning, syntactic features, and inference generation. In the present study, we examined story processing in 17 patients with frontal lobe lesions and compared their performance to 7 amnesic patients and 17 normal controls. Two stories were presented by using two slightly different processing demands in order to assess the subject's ability to draw inferences on-line during the course of comprehension or later retrieval. Although all patients had impaired story memory, patients with frontal lobe lesions showed a pattern of deficit at an early stage of story comprehension that specifically involved the ability to reconstruct the sequential links among events and to extract inferential knowledge from the text during encoding. Amnesic patients were severely impaired in recalling story semantic units, including single events and larger narrative constituents, as well as in the event recognition task. Consequently, they were unable to establish inferential relations among the events and, thus, the global sequential structure of the stories during retrieval. In contrast, they had no difficulty in extracting inferential knowledge during story comprehension on the basis of readily available information. This study shows that damage to different cortical regions may induce impairments at various levels of story processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-231
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Amnesia
  • Complex-event categorization
  • Narrative comprehension
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Scripts
  • Story-grammar knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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