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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

AMNESIA

Preserved Memory Function in Amnesia

As noted earlier, short-term memory is unaffected in amnesia, as well as the learning of motor skills. However, the type of preserved memory ability that has most influenced theories of amnesia has been priming, which is shown when there is improvement or bias in perceiving, producing, or identifying a word or object resulting from a prior experience. A critical difference between priming and more traditional forms of memory is that it does not involve conscious recollection. Memory tasks that require conscious recollection are termed explicit tasks, whereas priming and other types of memory that do not require conscious recollection are termed implicit tasks.

Historically, it was early findings of intact memory performance on priming tests that galvanized interest into the question of what other hidden memory abilities lay untapped in amnesic patients. Priming was exciting in part because it involved retrieving words, the same complex entities that amnesic patients otherwise found so hard to retrieve in conventional memory tests.

It postulates that the deficit in amnesia is primarily or wholly concentrated in the episodic system. This view gains support from the fact that amnesic patients with retrograde memory impairment perform much better on tests assessing their general knowledge (semantic memory) than their recollection of specific events (episodic memory).

Declarative memory is defined as information that can be voluntarily brought to mind by conscious recollection. By this view, the spared memory abilities of amnesic patients are handled by a heterogeneous variety of other specific forms of memory, collectively termed nondeclarative memory, which have their neural basis outside of the medial temporal lobe system.

As noted above, damage to the frontal lobes can result in source memory deficits, in which it is difficult to retrieve the spatial and temporal context of an event. Such a deficit would be expected to affect the retrieval of episodic memories (with their rich associated context) to a much greater extent than semantic memories. Thus, the distinction between episodic and semantic memory could be explained if episodic memory is proposed to be more dependent on the frontal lobes than semantic memory.


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