Hippocampal amnesia disrupts verbal play and the creative use of language in social interaction

Melissa C. Duff, Julie A. Hengst, Daniel Tranel, Neal J. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: While the neural substrates and cognitive components of creativity have received considerable attention in cognitive neuroscience, the creative use of language in social interaction has been less well studied. As part of a broader programme of research on language-and-memory-in-use in individuals with hippocampal amnesia, we analysed verbal play, a creative use of language that is pervasive in everyday communicative interaction. Aims: To identify instances of creative uses of language in the protocols of social and collaborative interactions, to characterise the qualitative nature, and to determine the frequency of these interactions initiated by participants with hippocampal amnesia vs comparison participants in order to ascertain whether amnesia impairs this aspect of social communication. Methods & Procedures: This study uses quantitative group comparisons and detailed discourse analysis to analyse verbal play in the interactional discourse sessions of four participants with hippocampal amnesia and four healthy (demographically matched) comparison participants, each interacting with a familiar partner while completing a collaborative referencing task and with a researcher between task trials. Outcomes & Results: All participants used verbal play. However, significantly fewer episodes were initiated in sessions with amnesia participants (312) and by participants with amnesia themselves (187) than in sessions with comparison participants (572) and by comparison participants (395). No significant group differences were observed for interactional forms, resources, or functions. Qualitative differences were also observed in amnesia sessions (e.g.,more rotely produced episodes, lack of thematically linked episodes). Conclusions: These findings suggest that hippocampal amnesia disrupts the creative use of language in social interaction and accord with our previous work pointing to impairments in language-and-memory-in-use more broadly. These findings highlight the interdependence of language and memory especially in the interactional aspects of communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)926-939
Number of pages14
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 2009


  • Creativity
  • Declarative memory
  • Hippocampal amnesia
  • Social interaction
  • Verbal play

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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