The present research project investigated pragmatic processing in aging, with a focus on both healthy and clinical populations. To date, it is still unclear how pragmatic abilities evolve in late adulthood, as well as when pragmatic difficulties are more likely to arise. Moreover, the cognitive underpinnings of pragmatic processing are still a matter of debate; against the traditional view of an overlap between Theory of Mind (ToM) and pragmatic language, more recent evidence suggested that other cognitive abilities, including executive functions, might come into play. The first study investigated pragmatic deficits in a sample of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) at the early stage of the illness. Additionally, we aimed at exploring whether the decay of a specific cognitive function could explain any of the observed pragmatic impairment. Results showed that early PD patients are already impaired in general pragmatic skills; moreover, they exhibit deficits in both general production and comprehension. Good general cognitive skills and high education levels supported patients’ pragmatic processing; additionally, a predictive role of inhibitory control was found in the ability to understand figurative language. The second study focused on the investigation of pragmatic skills in a sample of healthy older adults, as well as on the exploration of the cognitive and demographic factors that might support pragmatic competence. Pragmatic difficulties seem to occur in late adulthood, likely around the age of 70, and emerge more prominently in the comprehension domain. Age was the only predictor of general pragmatic performance in a sample of cognitively unimpaired older adults; conversely, when elderly individuals with less intact inhibitory control were considered, a general role of inhibition emerged, in addition to working memory and ToM in specific tasks. The last study aimed at investigating the effect of aging on metaphor comprehension, taking into account the role of inhibition and Cognitive Reserve (CR). To pursue this aim, we built a Metaphor Interference Effect (MIE) paradigm. Participants showed significantly higher response times (RTs) for judging higher familiarity metaphors as literally false, compared to RTs for judging anomalous expressions as literally false, irrespective of the group. Differences between older and younger participants emerged in RTs and accuracy. Inhibition and CR were found as significant predictors of metaphor comprehension in aging. Theoretical considerations in support of the present findings are further discussed in this thesis.

Pragmatic Abilities in Aging. Investigating the role of executive functions in pragmatic processing: a focus on healthy and clinical populations.

BARALDI, MARIA ALICE
2022-07-14

Abstract

The present research project investigated pragmatic processing in aging, with a focus on both healthy and clinical populations. To date, it is still unclear how pragmatic abilities evolve in late adulthood, as well as when pragmatic difficulties are more likely to arise. Moreover, the cognitive underpinnings of pragmatic processing are still a matter of debate; against the traditional view of an overlap between Theory of Mind (ToM) and pragmatic language, more recent evidence suggested that other cognitive abilities, including executive functions, might come into play. The first study investigated pragmatic deficits in a sample of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) at the early stage of the illness. Additionally, we aimed at exploring whether the decay of a specific cognitive function could explain any of the observed pragmatic impairment. Results showed that early PD patients are already impaired in general pragmatic skills; moreover, they exhibit deficits in both general production and comprehension. Good general cognitive skills and high education levels supported patients’ pragmatic processing; additionally, a predictive role of inhibitory control was found in the ability to understand figurative language. The second study focused on the investigation of pragmatic skills in a sample of healthy older adults, as well as on the exploration of the cognitive and demographic factors that might support pragmatic competence. Pragmatic difficulties seem to occur in late adulthood, likely around the age of 70, and emerge more prominently in the comprehension domain. Age was the only predictor of general pragmatic performance in a sample of cognitively unimpaired older adults; conversely, when elderly individuals with less intact inhibitory control were considered, a general role of inhibition emerged, in addition to working memory and ToM in specific tasks. The last study aimed at investigating the effect of aging on metaphor comprehension, taking into account the role of inhibition and Cognitive Reserve (CR). To pursue this aim, we built a Metaphor Interference Effect (MIE) paradigm. Participants showed significantly higher response times (RTs) for judging higher familiarity metaphors as literally false, compared to RTs for judging anomalous expressions as literally false, irrespective of the group. Differences between older and younger participants emerged in RTs and accuracy. Inhibition and CR were found as significant predictors of metaphor comprehension in aging. Theoretical considerations in support of the present findings are further discussed in this thesis.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11567/1090854
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