Dr Holly Robson is one of our Postdoctoral Research Fellows and has recently published a research paper in the Journal 'Cortex', which will appear in the October 2014 issue.
Her research looks at what is happening in the brains of people who experience communication problems because of a stroke, and in this particular study, she focussed on people with a certain type of communication problem called Wernicke's aphasia.
People with Wernicke’s aphasia have problems with understanding language, based on their lack of understanding of the meaning of speech or written text. They can usually speak in sentences (with normal rhythm and structure), but what they say can be difficult for the listener to understand.
The research is a continuation of Dr Robson's previous research into Wernicke's aphasia, also featured in the journal, Cortex, in July last year.
In that research, she found that the people with Wernicke's aphasia had problems recognising simple non-speech sounds as well as words. This suggested that rather than a very specific problem in finding the meaning of words, they might have more fundamental problems in recognising and identifying sounds.
Dr Robson and her colleagues realised that this could be crucial for recognising the sound patterns in spoken words and therefore understanding the meaning of speech. And that's also why her current research went into even more detailed investigations of how people with Wernicke's aphasia process the sound patterns in words.
What she has found is that people with Wernicke's aphasia are less able to distinguish what are known as 'auditory objects' in a stream of sound, than those people without it. This is important as auditory objects are the fundamental building block of how we begin to recognise sounds.
The research further suggests that this is may be due to inefficient sound processing in the right side of the brains of those affected by Wernicke's aphasia.
Although this research is still at a very early stage, Dr Robson’s findings have interesting implications for how we might go about treating stroke patients with Wernicke’s aphasia. They suggest that future research could try training patients on non-speech sound discrimination tasks to improve their ability to understand spoken language.
Dr Robson is a Lecturer at the University of Reading and has conducted this work in collaboration with researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Cardiff. Visit her website for more information.