Information content versus relational knowledge: Semantic deficits in patients with Alzheimer's disease

Justin M. Aronoff, Laura M. Gonnerman, Amit Almor, Sudha Arunachalam, Daniel Kempler, Elaine S. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of semantic impairment in Alzheimer's disease (AD) have yielded conflicting results, some finding evidence of considerable deficits, others finding that semantic knowledge is relatively intact. How do we reconcile findings from picture naming tasks that seem to indicate semantic impairment in AD with results from certain sorting tasks that suggest intact semantics? To investigate the basis of the contradictory results described above, we conducted a study using two types of tasks: (1) picture naming; and (2) board sorting. The board sorting task we used is a simultaneous similarity judgment task, in which participants are asked to place more similar concepts closer together and less similar ones farther apart. We compared the performance of AD patients on these two tasks, using a number of different analyses that yield very different patterns of results. Our results indicate that whether patients show impairment or not depends on both the nature of the task and the subsequent analysis chosen. Specifically, tasks and analyses that focus on relational knowledge (e.g., dog is more related to cat than to camel) lead to different conclusions than those based on specific information about individual items. These findings suggest that the board sorting method, when coupled with multiple analyses, provides a more complete picture of the underlying semantic deficit in AD than previous studies have shown.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-35
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Board sorting
  • Language impairment
  • Semantic deficits
  • Similarity judgments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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