Language and thought

Data from individuals with brain damage provide important insights into the role of language in other cognitive domains. In a series of studies, recruiting people with severe aphasia, we have explored the ability to sustain various types of thinking in the face of extensive damage to left perisylvian cortex and profound language impairment. We have shown residual capacity in cognitive domains such as theory of mind, mathematics, causal reasoning, reorientation, and use of a novel communicative system.



University College London
Massachussetts Institute of Technology
University of Sheffield


+ Publications (click to expand)

Fedorenko, E., & Varley, R. (2016). Language and thought are not the same thing: evidence from neuroimaging and neurological patients. YEAR IN COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE, 1369, 132-153. doi:10.1111/nyas.13046

Benn, Y., Bergman, O., Glazer, L., Arent, P., Wilkinson, I. D., Varley, R., & Whittaker, S. (2015). Navigating through digital folders uses the same brain structures as real world navigation. SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 5, 8 pages. doi:10.1038/srep14719

Varley, R. (2014). Reason without much language. LANGUAGE SCIENCES, 46, 232-244. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2014.06.012

Bek, J., Blades, M., Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2013). Dual-Task Interference in Spatial Reorientation: Linguistic and Nonlinguistic Factors. SPATIAL COGNITION AND COMPUTATION, 13(1), 26-49. doi:10.1080/13875868.2011.590622

Benn, Y., Wilkinson, I. D., Zheng, Y., Kadosh, K. C., Romanowski, C. A. J., Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2013). Differentiating core and co-opted mechanisms in calculation: The neuroimaging of calculation in aphasia. BRAIN AND COGNITION, 82(3), 254-264. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2013.04.012

Klessinger, N., Szczerbinski, M., & Varley, R. (2012). The role of number words: the phonological length effect in multidigit addition. MEMORY & COGNITION, 40(8), 1289-1302. doi:10.3758/s13421-012-0228-y

Benn, Y., Zheng, Y., Wilkinson, I. D., Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2011). Language in calculation: A core mechanism?. Neuropsychologia.

Benn, Y., Zheng, Y., Wilkinson, I. D., Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2012). Language in calculation: A core mechanism?. Neuropsychologia, 50(1), 1-10. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.09.045

Byrne, C., & Varley, R. (2011). From mathematics to language: A novel intervention for sentence comprehension difficulties in aphasia. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 24(2), 173-182. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroling.2010.02.007

Willems, R. M., Benn, Y., Hagoort, P., Toni, I., & Varley, R. (2011). Communicating without a functioning language system: Implications for the role of language in mentalizing. Neuropsychologia, 49(11), 3130-3135. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.07.023

Bek, J., Blades, M., Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2010). Language and Spatial Reorientation: Evidence From Severe Aphasia. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 36(3), 646-658. doi:10.1037/a0018281

Willems, R. M., & Varley, R. (2010). Neural insights into the relation between language and communication. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2010.00203

Klessinger, N., Szczerbinski, M., & Varley, R. (2007). Algebra in a man with severe aphasia. Neuropsychologia, 45(8), 1642-1648. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.01.005

Varley, R., Whiteside, S., Hammill, C., & Cooper, K. (2006). Phases in speech encoding and foreign accent syndrome. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 19(5), 356-369. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroling.2006.03.002

Siegal, M.., & Varley, R. A. (2006). Aphasia, language and theory of mind.. Social Neuroscience, (1), 167-174.

Varley, R. A., Klessinger, N. J. C., Romanowski, C. A. J., & Siegal, M. (2005). Agrammatic but numerate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(9), 3519-3524. doi:10.1073/pnas.0407470102

Siegal, M., & Varley, R. (2002). Neural systems involved in 'theory of mind'. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3(6), 463-471. doi:10.1038/nrn844

Siegal, M., Varley, R., & Want, S. C. (2001). Mind over grammar: Reasoning in aphasia and development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5(7), 296-301. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01667-3

Varley, R., Siegal, M., & Want, S. C. (2001). Severe impairment in grammar does not preclude theory of mind. Neurocase, 7(6), 489-493.

Varley, R., & Siegal, M. (2000). Evidence for cognition without grammar from causal reasoning and 'theory of mind' in an agrammatic aphasic patient. Current Biology, 10(12), 723-726. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(00)00538-8