Laura Verga

Publications

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14
  • Ferraro, S., Nigri, A., D'incerti, L., Rosazza, C., Sattin, D., Sebastiano, D. R., Visani, E., Duran, D., Marotta, G., De Michelis, G., Catricalà, E., Kotz, S. A., Verga, L., Leonardi, M., Cappa, S. F., & Bruzzone, M. G. (2020). Preservation of language processing and auditory performance in patients with disorders of consciousness: a multimodal assessment. Frontiers in Neurology, 11: 526465. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.526465.

    Abstract

    The impact of language impairment on the clinical assessment of patients suffering from disorders of consciousness (DOC) is unknown or underestimated, and may mask the presence of conscious behavior. In a group of DOC patients (n=11; time post-injury range:5-252 months), we investigated the main neural functional and structural underpinnings of linguistic processing, and their relationship with the behavioral measures of the auditory function, using the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R). We assessed the integrity of the brainstem auditory pathways, of the left superior temporal gyrus and arcuate fasciculus, the neural activity elicited by passive listening of an auditory language task and the mean hemispheric glucose metabolism. Our results support the hypothesis of a relationship between the level of preservation of the investigated structures/functions and the CRS-R auditory subscale scores. Moreover, our findings indicate that patients in minimally conscious state minus (MCS-): 1) when presenting the \emph{auditory startle} (at the CRS-R auditory subscale) might be aphasic in the receptive domain, being severely impaired in the core language structures/functions; 2) when presenting the \emph{localization to sound} might retain language processing, being almost intact or intact in the core language structures/functions. Despite the small group of investigated patients, our findings provide a grounding of the clinical measures of the CRS-R auditory subscale in the integrity of the underlying auditory structures/functions. Future studies are needed to confirm our results that might have important consequences for the clinical practice.
  • Galbiati, A., Sforza, M., Poletti, M., Verga, L., Zucconi, M., Ferini-Strambi, L., & Castronovo, V. (2020). Insomnia patients with subjective short total sleep time have a boosted response to cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia despite residual symptoms. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 18(1), 58-67. doi:10.1080/15402002.2018.1545650.

    Abstract

    Background: Two distinct insomnia disorder (ID) phenotypes have been proposed, distinguished on the basis of an objective total sleep time less or more than 6 hr. In particular, it has been recently reported that patients with objective short sleep duration have a blunted response to cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). The aim of this study was to investigate the differences of CBT-I response in two groups of ID patients subdivided according to total sleep time. Methods: Two hundred forty-six ID patients were subdivided into two groups, depending on their reported total sleep time (TST) assessed by sleep diaries. Patients with a TST greater than 6 hr were classified as “normal sleepers” (NS), while those with a total sleep time less than 6 hr were classified as “short sleepers” (SS). Results: The delta between Insomnia Severity Index scores and sleep efficiency at the beginning as compared to the end of the treatment was significantly higher for SS in comparison to NS, even if they still exhibit more insomnia symptoms. No difference was found between groups in terms of remitters; however, more responders were observed in the SS group in comparison to the NS group. Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that ID patients with reported short total sleep time had a beneficial response to CBT-I of greater magnitude in comparison to NS. However, these patients may still experience the presence of residual insomnia symptoms after treatment.
  • Galbiati, A., Verga, L., Giora, E., Zucconi, M., & Ferini-Strambi, L. (2019). The risk of neurodegeneration in REM sleep behavior disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 43, 37-46. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2018.09.008.

    Abstract

    Several studies report an association between REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) and neurodegenerative diseases, in particular synucleinopathies. Interestingly, the onset of RBD precedes the development of neurodegeneration by several years. This review and meta-analysis aims to establish the rate of conversion of RBD into neurodegenerative diseases. Longitudinal studies were searched from the PubMed, Web of Science, and SCOPUS databases. Using random-effect modeling, we performed a meta-analysis on the rate of RBD conversions into neurodegeneration. Furthermore, we fitted a Kaplan-Meier analysis and compared the differences between survival curves of different diseases with log-rank tests. The risk for developing neurodegenerative diseases was 33.5% at five years follow-up, 82.4% at 10.5 years and 96.6% at 14 years. The average conversion rate was 31.95% after a mean duration of follow-up of 4.75 ± 2.43 years. The majority of RBD patients converted to Parkinson's Disease (43%), followed by Dementia with Lewy Bodies (25%). The estimated risk for RBD patients to develop a neurodegenerative disease over a long-term follow-up is more than 90%. Future studies should include control group for the evaluation of REM sleep without atonia as marker for neurodegeneration also in non-clinical population and target RBD as precursor of neurodegeneration to develop protective trials.
  • Ravignani, A., Verga, L., & Greenfield, M. D. (2019). Interactive rhythms across species: The evolutionary biology of animal chorusing and turn-taking. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1453(1), 12-21. doi:10.1111/nyas.14230.

    Abstract

    The study of human language is progressively moving toward comparative and interactive frameworks, extending the concept of turn‐taking to animal communication. While such an endeavor will help us understand the interactive origins of language, any theoretical account for cross‐species turn‐taking should consider three key points. First, animal turn‐taking must incorporate biological studies on animal chorusing, namely how different species coordinate their signals over time. Second, while concepts employed in human communication and turn‐taking, such as intentionality, are still debated in animal behavior, lower level mechanisms with clear neurobiological bases can explain much of animal interactive behavior. Third, social behavior, interactivity, and cooperation can be orthogonal, and the alternation of animal signals need not be cooperative. Considering turn‐taking a subset of chorusing in the rhythmic dimension may avoid overinterpretation and enhance the comparability of future empirical work.
  • Verga, L., & Kotz, S. A. (2019). Putting language back into ecological communication contexts. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(4), 536-544. doi:10.1080/23273798.2018.1506886.

    Abstract

    Language is a multi-faceted form of communication. It is not until recently though that language research moved on from simple stimuli and protocols toward a more ecologically valid approach, namely “shifting” from words and simple sentences to stories with varying degrees of contextual complexity. While much needed, the use of ecologically valid stimuli such as stories should also be explored in interactive rather than individualistic experimental settings leading the way to an interactive neuroscience of language. Indeed, mounting evidence suggests that cognitive processes and their underlying neural activity significantly differ between social and individual experiences. We aim at reviewing evidence, which indicates that the characteristics of linguistic and extra-linguistic contexts may significantly influence communication–including spoken language comprehension. In doing so, we provide evidence on the use of new paradigms and methodological advancements that may enable the study of complex language features in a truly interactive, ecological way.
  • Verga, L., & Kotz, S. A. (2019). Spatial attention underpins social word learning in the right fronto-parietal network. NeuroImage, 195, 165-173. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.03.071.

    Abstract

    In a multi- and inter-cultural world, we daily encounter new words. Adult learners often rely on a situational context to learn and understand a new word's meaning. Here, we explored whether interactive learning facilitates word learning by directing the learner's attention to a correct new word referent when a situational context is non-informative. We predicted larger involvement of inferior parietal, frontal, and visual cortices involved in visuo-spatial attention during interactive learning. We scanned participants while they played a visual word learning game with and without a social partner. As hypothesized, interactive learning enhanced activity in the right Supramarginal Gyrus when the situational context provided little information. Activity in the right Inferior Frontal Gyrus during interactive learning correlated with post-scanning behavioral test scores, while these scores correlated with activity in the Fusiform Gyrus in the non-interactive group. These results indicate that attention is involved in interactive learning when the situational context is minimal and suggest that individual learning processes may be largely different from interactive ones. As such, they challenge the ecological validity of what we know about individual learning and advocate the exploration of interactive learning in naturalistic settings.
  • Valentin, B., Verga, L., Benoit, C.-E., Kotz, S. A., & Dalla Bella, S. (2018). Test-retest reliability of the battery for the assessment of auditory sensorimotor and timing abilities (BAASTA). Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 61(6), 395-400. doi:10.1016/j.rehab.2018.04.001.

    Abstract

    Perceptual and sensorimotor timing skills can be thoroughly assessed with the Battery for the Assessment of Auditory Sensorimotor and Timing Abilities (BAASTA). The battery has been used for testing rhythmic skills in healthy adults and patient populations (e.g., with Parkinson disease), showing sensitivity to timing and rhythm deficits. Here we assessed the test-retest reliability of the BAASTA in 20 healthy adults. Participants were tested twice with the BAASTA, implemented on a tablet interface, with a 2-week interval. They completed 4 perceptual tasks, namely, duration discrimination, anisochrony detection with tones and music, and the Beat Alignment Test (BAT). Moreover, they completed motor tasks via finger tapping, including unpaced and paced tapping with tones and music, synchronization-continuation, and adaptive tapping to a sequence with a tempo change. Despite high variability among individuals, the results showed good test-retest reliability in most tasks. A slight but significant improvement from test to retest was found in tapping with music, which may reflect a learning effect. In general, the BAASTA was found a reliable tool for evaluating timing and rhythm skills.
  • Dalla Bella, S., Farrugia, F., Benoit, C.-E., Begel, V., Verga, L., Harding, E., & Kotz, S. A. (2017). BAASTA: Battery for the Assessment of Auditory Sensorimotor and Timing Abilities. Behavior Research Methods, 49(3), 1128-1145. doi:10.3758/s13428-016-0773-6.

    Abstract

    The Battery for the Assessment of Auditory Sensorimotor and Timing Abilities (BAASTA) is a new tool for the systematic assessment of perceptual and sensorimotor timing skills. It spans a broad range of timing skills aimed at differentiating individual timing profiles. BAASTA consists of sensitive time perception and production tasks. Perceptual tasks include duration discrimination, anisochrony detection (with tones and music), and a version of the Beat Alignment Task. Perceptual thresholds for duration discrimination and anisochrony detection are estimated with a maximum likelihood procedure (MLP) algorithm. Production tasks use finger tapping and include unpaced and paced tapping (with tones and music), synchronization-continuation, and adaptive tapping to a sequence with a tempo change. BAASTA was tested in a proof-of-concept study with 20 non-musicians (Experiment 1). To validate the results of the MLP procedure, less widespread than standard staircase methods, three perceptual tasks of the battery (duration discrimination, anisochrony detection with tones, and with music) were further tested in a second group of non-musicians using 2 down / 1 up and 3 down / 1 up staircase paradigms (n = 24) (Experiment 2). The results show that the timing profiles provided by BAASTA allow to detect cases of timing/rhythm disorders. In addition, perceptual thresholds yielded by the MLP algorithm, although generally comparable to the results provided by standard staircase, tend to be slightly lower. In sum, BAASTA provides a comprehensive battery to test perceptual and sensorimotor timing skills, and to detect timing/rhythm deficits.
  • Verga, L., & Kotz, S. A. (2017). Help me if I can't: Social interaction effects in adult contextual word learning. Cognition, 168, 76-90. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2017.06.018.

    Abstract

    A major challenge in second language acquisition is to build up new vocabulary. How is it possible to identify the meaning of a new word among several possible referents? Adult learners typically use contextual information, which reduces the number of possible referents a new word can have. Alternatively, a social partner may facilitate word learning by directing the learner’s attention toward the correct new word meaning. While much is known about the role of this form of ‘joint attention’ in first language acquisition, little is known about its efficacy in second language acquisition. Consequently, we introduce and validate a novel visual word learning game to evaluate how joint attention affects the contextual learning of new words in a second language. Adult learners either acquired new words in a constant or variable sentence context by playing the game with a knowledgeable partner, or by playing the game alone on a computer. Results clearly show that participants who learned new words in social interaction (i) are faster in identifying a correct new word referent in variable sentence contexts, and (ii) temporally coordinate their behavior with a social partner. Testing the learned words in a post-learning recall or recognition task showed that participants, who learned interactively, better recognized words originally learned in a variable context. While this result may suggest that interactive learning facilitates the allocation of attention to a target referent, the differences in the performance during recognition and recall call for further studies investigating the effect of social interaction on learning performance. In summary, we provide first evidence on the role joint attention in second language learning. Furthermore, the new interactive learning game offers itself to further testing in complex neuroimaging research, where the lack of appropriate experimental set-ups has so far limited the investigation of the neural basis of adult word learning in social interaction.
  • Ferreri, L., & Verga, L. (2016). Benefits of music on verbal learning and memory: How and when does it work? Music Perception, 34(2), 167-182. doi:10.1525/mp.2016.34.2.167.

    Abstract

    A long-standing debate in cognitive neurosciences concerns the effect of music on verbal learning and memory. Research in this field has largely provided conflicting results in both clinical as well as non-clinical populations. Although several studies have shown a positive effect of music on the encoding and retrieval of verbal stimuli, music has also been suggested to hinder mnemonic performance by dividing attention. In an attempt to explain this conflict, we review the most relevant literature on the effects of music on verbal learning and memory. Furthermore, we specify several mechanisms through which music may modulate these cognitive functions. We suggest that the extent to which music boosts these cognitive functions relies on experimental factors, such as the relative complexity of musical and verbal stimuli employed. These factors should be carefully considered in further studies, in order to reliably establish how and when music boosts verbal memory and learning. The answers to these questions are not only crucial for our knowledge of how music influences cognitive and brain functions, but may have important clinical implications. Considering the increasing number of approaches using music as a therapeutic tool, the importance of understanding exactly how music works can no longer be underestimated.
  • Verga, L., Bigand, E., & Kotz, S. A. (2015). Play along: Effects of music and social interaction on word learning. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1316. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01316.

    Abstract

    Learning new words is an increasingly common necessity in everyday life. External factors, among which music and social interaction are particularly debated, are claimed to facilitate this task. Due to their influence on the learner’s temporal behavior, these stimuli are able to drive the learner’s attention to the correct referent of new words at the correct point in time. However, do music and social interaction impact learning behavior in the same way? The current study aims to answer this question. Native German speakers (N = 80) were requested to learn new words (pseudo-words) during a contextual learning game. This learning task was performed alone with a computer or with a partner, with or without music. Results showed that music and social interaction had a different impact on the learner’s behavior: Participants tended to temporally coordinate their behavior more with a partner than with music, and in both cases more than with a computer. However, when both music and social interaction were present, this temporal coordination was hindered. These results suggest that while music and social interaction do influence participants’ learning behavior, they have a different impact. Moreover, impaired behavior when both music and a partner are present suggests that different mechanisms are employed to coordinate with the two types of stimuli. Whether one or the other approach is more efficient for word learning, however, is a question still requiring further investigation, as no differences were observed between conditions in a retrieval phase, which took place immediately after the learning session. This study contributes to the literature on word learning in adults by investigating two possible facilitating factors, and has important implications for situations such as music therapy, in which music and social interaction are present at the same time.
  • Verga, L. (2015). Learning together or learning alone: Investigating the role of social interaction in second language word learning. PhD Thesis, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
  • Spada, D., Verga, L., Iadanza, A., Tettamanti, M., & Perani, D. (2014). The auditory scene: An fMRI study on melody and accompaniment in professional pianists. NeuroImage, 102(2), 764-775. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.08.036.

    Abstract

    The auditory scene is a mental representation of individual sounds extracted from the summed sound waveform reaching the ears of the listeners. Musical contexts represent particularly complex cases of auditory scenes. In such a scenario, melody may be seen as the main object moving on a background represented by the accompaniment. Both melody and accompaniment vary in time according to harmonic rules, forming a typical texture with melody in the most prominent, salient voice. In the present sparse acquisition functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the interplay between melody and accompaniment in trained pianists, by observing the activation responses elicited by processing: (1) melody placed in the upper and lower texture voices, leading to, respectively, a higher and lower auditory salience; (2) harmonic violations occurring in either the melody, the accompaniment, or both. The results indicated that the neural activation elicited by the processing of polyphonic compositions in expert musicians depends upon the upper versus lower position of the melodic line in the texture, and showed an overall greater activation for the harmonic processing of melody over accompaniment. Both these two predominant effects were characterized by the involvement of the posterior cingulate cortex and precuneus, among other associative brain regions. We discuss the prominent role of the posterior medial cortex in the processing of melodic and harmonic information in the auditory stream, and propose to frame this processing in relation to the cognitive construction of complex multimodal sensory imagery scenes.
  • Verga, L., & Kotz, S. A. (2013). How relevant is social interaction in second language learning? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7: 550. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00550.

    Abstract

    Verbal language is the most widespread mode of human communication, and an intrinsically social activity. This claim is strengthened by evidence emerging from different fields, which clearly indicates that social interaction influences human communication, and more specifically, language learning. Indeed, research conducted with infants and children shows that interaction with a caregiver is necessary to acquire language. Further evidence on the influence of sociality on language comes from social and linguistic pathologies, in which deficits in social and linguistic abilities are tightly intertwined, as is the case for Autism, for example. However, studies on adult second language (L2) learning have been mostly focused on individualistic approaches, partly because of methodological constraints, especially of imaging methods. The question as to whether social interaction should be considered as a critical factor impacting upon adult language learning still remains underspecified. Here, we review evidence in support of the view that sociality plays a significant role in communication and language learning, in an attempt to emphasize factors that could facilitate this process in adult language learning. We suggest that sociality should be considered as a potentially influential factor in adult language learning and that future studies in this domain should explicitly target this factor.

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