Tracking passive sentence comprehension in agrammatic aphasia

Aaron M. Meyer, Jennifer E. Mack, Cynthia K. Thompson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


People with agrammatic aphasia often experience greater difficulty comprehending passive compared to active sentences. The Trace Deletion Hypothesis (TDH; Grodzinsky, 2000) proposes that aphasic individuals cannot generate accurate syntactic representations of passive sentences and, hence, use an agent-first processing strategy which leads to at-chance performance. We tested this claim using the eye tracking-while-listening paradigm in order to reveal online processing routines. Ten agrammatic aphasic participants and 10 age-matched controls listened to passive and active sentences and performed a sentence-picture matching task (i.e., selecting between two pictures with reversed thematic roles), while their eye movements were monitored. Control participants' performance was at ceiling, whereas accuracy for the aphasic participants was above chance for active sentences and at chance for passive sentences. Further, for the control participants, the eye movement data showed an initial agent-first processing bias, followed by fixation on the correct picture in the vicinity of the verb in both active and passive sentences. However, the aphasic participants showed no evidence of agent-first processing, counter the predictions of the TDH. In addition, in active sentences, they reliably fixated the correct picture only at sentence offset, reflecting slowed processing. During passive sentence processing, fixations were at chance throughout the sentence, but different patterns were noted for correct and incorrect trials. These results are consistent with the proposal that agrammatic sentence comprehension failure involves lexical processing and/or lexical integration deficits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Agent-first strategy
  • Agrammatic aphasia
  • Eye tracking
  • Online sentence processing
  • Passive sentences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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