The role of anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) in semantic processing is controversial. One theory, influenced by semantic dementia (SD) patients, is that this region is a pan-modal hub for all concepts. An alternative view is that atrophy in SD specifically affects knowledge for visual features. This is supported by reports of reverse concreteness effects in a few SD patients, suggesting that abstract word knowledge is spared relative to concrete words. However, it is not clear whether such effects are typical in SD, hence reliably associated with ATL damage, because most reports are of single cases and group studies have produced conflicting results. To address these contradictions, we investigated concreteness effects in 7 SD patients, using multiple tests from earlier studies in addition to new assessments. Comprehension was impaired for both word types but was better for concrete words. However, this pattern was not found uniformly across all tests and was most likely to be observed when: 1) concrete and abstract words were well matched for word frequency and 2) concrete and abstract words were selected with sufficient variation along the imageability scale. These factors account for the variability in previous studies and indicate that reverse concreteness effects are not common in SD. © 2011 The Author.
- anterior temporal lobe
- semantic knowledge