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The neuroscience basis of verbal learning: Training-induced brain reorganization for word production in healthy and aphasic participants.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Abel
    Prof M Lambon-Ralph
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

While word finding difficulties and slips of the tongue may transiently accompany stressful situations in healthy speakers, they permanently impair everyday communication in the majority of patients with stroke-related language disorders. Sentence production requires the production of various word types, including nouns for object representation and verbs for action representation, both of which can be trained to improve access from the mental lexicon (Abel et al., 2014, 2015; Carragher, et al, 2013). Previous research has revealed neural underpinnings of lexical therapy at least for nouns (Abel et al., 2014, 2015) and showed that non-verbal functions play a fundamental role in language impairments (Butler, Lambon Ralph, & Woollams, 2014). However, there is still limited insight into the neural mechanisms underlying successful compensation of language processing in aphasia, even though further scientific advances will positively influence language rehabilitation.

Our key research questions include whether the brain mechanisms and resources recruited by patients to improve performance are (i) the same as those recruited by healthy participants when learning novel vocabulary, and/or (ii) are based on untypical brain mechanisms/ non-verbal cognitive functions, and/or (iii) differ depending on type of words/ patient characteristics. Dependent on the outcome, speech therapy should (i) still be constructed to mirror verbal learning of vocabulary in healthy controls and/or (ii) involve further neuropsychological methods.

We will use neuroimaging (MRI, fMRI) and behavioural methods to study brain reorganization for language as a direct result of training, both for healthy controls (n=20) and those with lexical deficits in aphasia (n=20). Controls will be trained using low frequency technical vocabulary, and patients will be trained with more everyday words. Outcome and neural responses will be measured once after the therapy block. Improvements are detected by comparing trained versus untrained items, considering factors including word type and patient characteristics.

The successful candidate will be trained in a wide range of research skills including statistical processing, brain imaging and clinical techniques.

This 4-year full-time PhD is open to candidates able to provide evidence of self-arranged funding/ sponsorship.

Candidates are expected to hold, or about to obtain, an upper second class (or equivalent) in Psychology, Neuroscience, or Speech and Language Therapy. Clinical and research experience are highly appreciated.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


1. Abel, S., Weiller, C., Huber, W., & Willmes, K. (2014). Neural underpinnings for model-oriented therapy of aphasic word production. Neuropsychologia, 57, 154-165.
2. Abel, S., Weiller, C., Huber, W., Willmes, K., & Specht, K. (2015). Therapy-induced brain reorganisation patterns in aphasia. Brain, 138, 1097-1112.
3. Humphreys, G.F., Hoffman, P., Visser, M., Binney, R.J., & Lambon Ralph, M.A. (2015). Establishing task- and modality-dependent dissociations between the semantic and default mode networks. PNAS, 112, 7857–7862.
4. Butler, R. A., Lambon Ralph, M. A., & Woollams, A. M. (2014). Capturing multidimensionality in stroke aphasia: mapping principal behavioural components to neural structures. Brain, 137, 3248-3266.
5. Carragher, M., Sage, K. & Conroy, P. (2013): The effects of verb retrieval therapy for people with non-fluent aphasia: Evidence from assessment tasks and conversation. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 23(6), 846-87.

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 67.70

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