Kessler Foundation Team Examines Influence of Processing Speed on Treatment Benefits of Cognitive Rehabilitation for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury

Processing speed influences benefits of Kessler Foundation modified Story Memory Technique on verbal list learning

Light skin woman with dark brown hair wearing a black blouse and white pearl necklace
Dr. Chiaravalloti is project director of the Centers
for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience, and
TraumaticBrain Injury Research at Kessler
Foundation and project director of the Northern
New Jersey Traumatic Brain Injury Model


East Hanover, NJ. August 25, 2023. Scientists at Kessler Foundation reported results from a randomized controlled trial examining the influence of processing speed on treatment benefits of the Kessler Foundation modified Story Memory Technique (KF-mSMT®) in individuals with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). They found that processing speed played a role in benefit from the KF-mSMT on a list learning task, but not on a prose memory task.

Their article, “The influence of information processing speed on benefit from learning and memory rehabilitation in TBI: a sub-analysis of the TBI-MEM trial,” (do: 10.1080/02699052.2023.2216024) was published online May 31, 2023, in Brain Injury. The authors are Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, Silvana L. Costa, PhD, Caroline Armknecht, BA, Kristen Costanza, MA, Aubree Alexander, PhD, and John DeLuca, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

Individuals with TBI often sustain a variety of cognitive impairments including deficits in attention, processing speed, executive functions, and memory. These impairments can have substantial negative effects on their abilities to function in everyday life. For example, impairments in processing speed and memory are recognized as specific obstacles to maintaining meaningful employment. Cognitive rehabilitation can help restore new learning and memory functioning; however, research shows that treatment efficacy may be influenced by cognitive deficits in other cognitive domains.

In the current study, the research team looked at the influence of processing speed on outcomes from the KF-mSMT, a well-validated cognitive rehabilitation program effective for improving learning and memory in individuals with moderate to severe TBI. The study involved 62 individuals with moderate-to-severe TBI (31, treatment group; 31, control group). All were tested at baseline with the California Verbal Learning Test, Second Edition (CVLT-II), Memory Assessment Scales – Prose Memory (MAS-PM), and the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT).

“We found that processing speed was significantly associated with the efficacy of the KF-mSMT on the task of verbal list learning,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti, director of the Centers for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience, and Traumatic Brain Injury Research. “In contrast, we saw no association with prose memory, a finding that is interesting to consider.”

“Verbal list learning requires patients to organize the information to be learned on their own, while the prose memory task is pre-organized,” Dr. Chiaravalloti stated. “Unlike prose memory, list learning requires more effort and attention, as well as processing speed, to execute effectively. This may explain the differential influence of processing speed between these tasks.”

These findings underscore the importance of examining the impact of other cognitive skills on memory rehabilitation. “Future research should address impairments in new learning/memory impairment and processing speed in individuals with moderate-to-severe TBI,” Dr. Chiaravalloti added. “Because of the fundamental role of processing speed in higher order cognition, treating deficits in processing speed is likely lead to optimal outcomes.”

The work was supported by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research [Grant# H133A120030] (Northern New Jersey TBI Model System).

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. We help people regain independence to lead full and productive lives.


For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

Stay Connected with Kessler Foundation
X (formerly known as Twitter) | Facebook | YouTube | Instagram | SoundCloud