Spatial reconstruction by patients with hippocampal damage is dominated by relational memory errors

Authors

  • Patrick D. Watson,

    Corresponding author
    • Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Department of Psychology and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
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  • Joel L. Voss,

    1. Department of Medical Social Sciences and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
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  • David E. Warren,

    1. Department of Neurology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
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  • Daniel Tranel,

    1. Department of Neurology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
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  • Neal J. Cohen

    1. Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Department of Psychology and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
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  • Author contributions: P.W. and J.V. jointly designed and conceived the experiment. J.V. performed the experiment, P.W. designed and performed the analysis and prepared the manuscript. D.W. and D.T. constructed and maintained the patient database, performed patient assessment, and provided the patient testing facilities. N.C. contributed conceptual and analytical support and supervision. All authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

Correspondence to: Patrick D. Watson, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL. E-mail: pwatson1@illinois.edu

Abstract

Hippocampal damage causes profound yet circumscribed memory impairment across diverse stimulus types and testing formats. Here, within a single test format involving a single class of stimuli, we identified different performance errors to better characterize the specifics of the underlying deficit. The task involved study and reconstruction of object arrays across brief retention intervals. The most striking feature of patients' with hippocampal damage performance was that they tended to reverse the relative positions of item pairs within arrays of any size, effectively “swapping” pairs of objects. These “swap errors” were the primary error type in amnesia, almost never occurred in healthy comparison participants, and actually contributed to poor performance on more traditional metrics (such as distance between studied and reconstructed location). Patients made swap errors even in trials involving only a single pair of objects. The selectivity and severity of this particular deficit creates serious challenges for theories of memory and hippocampus. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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