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A Feasibility Study using Pupil Dilation Measures to Examine Cognitive Effort During a Working Memory Span Task in People with Aphasia

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  • Aphasia is a language disorder, but it may also be accompanied by subtle cognitive impairments including deficits in working memory (WM). These cognitive and WM impairments are hard to quantify as traditionally, performance is assessed with a verbal or motoric response. These measures can be problematic for people with aphasia (PWA) because aphasia by definition involves a language deficit and often PWA also have motor impairments.
    Cognitive effort is a measure of performance on WM tasks that is often overlooked. Pupillometry, the measurement of pupil dilation, has been used to index cognitive effort. In conjunction with a non-linguistic task, pupillometry can be an ideal tool for PWA as it is a physiological measure of cognitive effort that bypasses speech and motor difficulties.
    In this study, PWA and age- and education-matched control participants completed a series of WM span tasks while an eye-tracker continuously collected pupil size measures as a proxy for cognitive effort. Pupil size increased with the number of items participants had to remember, reflecting an increase in cognitive effort. There was no significant difference in the change in pupil size between people with and without aphasia, indicating that both groups exerted similar amounts of effort. However, PWA performed significantly worse than controls on performance measures in the forward WM span task.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International