Impaired reasoning and problem-solving in individuals with language impairment due to aphasia or language delay
The precise nature of the relationship between language and thought is an intriguing and challenging area of inquiry for scientists across many disciplines. In the realm of neuropsychology, research has investigated the inter-dependence of language and thought by testing individuals with compromised language abilities and observing whether performance in other cognitive domains is diminished. One group of such individuals is patients with aphasia who have an impairment in speech and language arising from a brain injury, such as a stroke. Our previous research has shown that the degree of language impairment in these individuals is strongly associated with the degree of impairment on complex reasoning tasks, such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) and Raven’s Matrices. In the current study, we present new data from a large group of individuals with aphasia that show a dissociation in performance between putatively non-verbal tasks on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) that require differing degrees of reasoning (Picture Completion vs. Picture Arrangement tasks). We also present an update and replication of our previous findings with the WCST showing that individuals with the most profound core language deficits (i.e., impaired comprehension and disordered language output) are particularly impaired on problem-solving tasks. In the second part of the paper, we present findings from a neurologically intact individual known as “Chelsea” who was not exposed to language due to an unaddressed hearing loss that was present since birth. At the age of 32, she was fitted with hearing aids and exposed to spoken and signed language for the first time, but she was only able to acquire a limited language capacity. Chelsea was tested on a series of standardized neuropsychological measures, including reasoning and problem-solving tasks. She was able to perform well on a number of visuospatial tasks but was disproportionately impaired on tasks that required reasoning, such as Raven’s Matrices and the WAIS Picture Arrangement task. Together, these findings suggest that language supports complex reasoning, possibly due to the facilitative role of verbal working memory and inner speech in higher mental processes.