Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Signed Verbal Learning Test: Assessing Verbal Memory of Deaf Signers

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Signed Verbal Learning Test: Assessing Verbal Memory of Deaf Signers

Article excerpt


Memory assessment involves the measurement of a wide range of memory functions, both verbal, or linguistic, and nonverbal. Although research suggests that modified measures of visual memory may be adequate for deaf signers, this is not the case for measures of linguistic memory. Few measures of memory for signs are available, and direct translation of measures developed in English is likely to be invalid for use with deaf signers. The current article briefly reviews the literature on verbal memory assessment of deaf individuals and presents a measure of list learning developed for individuals using American Sign Language that takes into account the influence of both English and ASL on learning and memory performance.

Neuropsychological assessment in both research and clinical practice requires evaluation of memory functions. Comprehensive memory evaluation involves multiple areas of assessment, including visuospatial memory and multiple aspects of verbal memory (Lezak, Howieson, and Loring 2004). Lezak and colleagues suggest that the latter should include tasks such as story (prose) recall and list learning and that the latter should be tested using both free recall and recognition trials; this will provide a learning curve based on repeated learning trials. Studies suggest that standard measures of visuospatial memory can be used with deaf individuals (Golden 1975; Hauser et al. 2007). Indeed, deaf signers may outperform hearing peers on some aspects of visual memory (Arnold and Mills 2001; Arnold and Murray 1998; Cattani, Clibbens, and Perfect 2007; Flaherty 2003; Hamilton 2011;Wilson et al. 1997).

Although visual memory may be adequately assessed by adaptations of standard measures, the same cannot be said for the assessment of verbal, or linguistic, memory. As Pollard (2002) notes, English-based measures may be invalid and therefore inappropriate for deaf signers. Ethically, psychologists should use linguistically appropriate measures whenever possible; however, accessible measures of linguistic memory for deaf signers have been limited, and therefore appropriate measures are not always available. More recent measures provide research norms for ASL-based measures of prose recall (Pollard et al. 2007) and paired associate learning (Pollard, Rediess, and DeMatteo 200$); however, standardized, ASL-based measures of list learning have been lacking.

List-Learning Tasks

A number of list-learning tasks are available in English as well as other languages. While some use lists of unrelated words, recall on the first trial of such lists is reported to be only five to six items (Lezak et al. 2004). Even on such tasks, during repeated learning trials, subjects tend to make associations between words to enhance retention and retrieval, resulting in responses with clusters of semantically related words produced on subsequent trials. The Rey Auditory-Verb al Learning Test (RAVLT; Rey 1964) is one of the oldest and most widely used verbal learning measures in research and particularly in clinical settings. The RAVLT was developed in French, and the English translation retained the words and order of the original task (Lezak et al. 2004). Alternate forms have been developed to allow for repeated testing, and the RAVLT has been translated into at least six additional languages (Strauss, Sherman, and Spreen 2006). Strauss and colleagues note that the RAVLT is based on a single trial task originally developed "in the early 1900s, making it one of the oldest mental tests in continuous use, albeit in a modified form" (776). Indeed, composite norms for both children and adults continue to be generated (Vakil, Greenstein, and Blachstein 2010).

In its current form, the test typically consists of five learning trials of fifteen concrete nouns (List A) presented in a fixed order. The task instructions are presented before each learning trial regardless of performance on previous trials. After the response to the fifth trial, an interference trial (List B) is presented, and once the individual recalls the items from the interference list, recall of the initial list is requested (delayed free recall). …

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