A new modified listening span task to enhance validity of working memory assessment for people with and without aphasia
Deficits in working memory (WM) are an important subset of cognitive processing deficits associated with aphasia. However, there are serious limitations to research on WM in aphasia largely due to the lack of an established valid measure of WM impairment for this population. The aim of the current study was to address shortcomings of previous measures by developing and empirically evaluating a novel WM task with a sentence-picture matching processing component designed to circumvent confounds inherent in existing measures of WM in aphasia. The novel WM task was presented to persons with (n = 27) and without (n = 33) aphasia. Results demonstrated high concurrent validity of a novel WM task. Individuals with aphasia performed significantly worse on all conditions of the WM task compared to individuals without aphasia. Different patterns of performance across conditions were observed for the two groups. Strengths of the task are that it allows for differential control for length versus complexity of verbal stimuli and indexing of the relative influence of each, minimizes metalinguistic requirements, enables control for complexity of processing components, allows participants to respond with simple gestures or verbally, and eliminates reading requirements. Results support the feasibility and validity of using a novel task to assess WM in individuals with and without aphasia.