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Losing sight of the future: Impaired semantic prospection following medial temporal lobe lesions

Authors

  • Elizabeth Race,

    Corresponding author
    1. Memory Disorders Research Center, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
    • Memory Disorders Research Center, VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine, 150 S. Huntington Avenue (151-A), Boston, MA 02130, USA
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  • Margaret M. Keane,

    1. Memory Disorders Research Center, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychology, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts
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  • Mieke Verfaellie

    1. Memory Disorders Research Center, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The ability to imagine the future (prospection) relies on many of the same brain regions that support memory for the past. To date, scientific research has primarily focused on the neural substrates of episodic forms of prospection (mental simulation of spatiotemporally specific future events); however, little is known about the neural substrates of semantic prospection (mental simulation of future nonpersonal facts). Of particular interest is the role of the medial temporal lobes (MTLs), and specifically the hippocampus. Although the hippocampus has been proposed to play a key role in episodic prospection, recent evidence suggests that it may not play a similar role in semantic prospection. To examine this possibility, amnesic patients with MTL lesions were asked to imagine future issues occurring in the public domain. The results showed that patients could list general semantic facts about the future, but when probed to elaborate, patients produced impoverished descriptions that lacked semantic detail. This impairment occurred despite intact performance on standard neuropsychological tests of semantic processing and did not simply reflect deficits in narrative construction. The performance of a patient with damage limited to the hippocampus was similar to that of the remaining patients with MTL lesions and amnesic patients' impaired elaboration of the semantic future correlated with their impaired elaboration of the semantic past. Together, these results provide novel evidence from MTL amnesia that memory and prospection are linked in the semantic domain and reveal that the MTLs play a critical role in the construction of detailed, multi-element semantic simulations. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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