Intact verbal and nonverbal short-term memory following damage to the human hippocampus

Authors

  • Carolyn Backer Cave,

    1. Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
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  • Larry R. Squire

    Corresponding author
    1. Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego
    • Veterans Affairs Medical Center, V-116A, 3350 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego, CA 92161
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Abstract

Short-term memory was assessed in two groups of amnesic patients. Six patients had confirmed or suspected damage to the hippocampal formation, and six patients had diencephalic damage as a result of alcoholic Korsakoff's syndrome. Verbal short-term memory was evaluated with seven separate administrations of the standard digit span test in order to obtain a precise measure of short-term memory. Nonverbal short-term memory was evaluated with four tests that assessed apprehension, retention, and the ability to manipulate nonverbal material—all within the span of immediate memory. One of these four tests assessed short-term memory for spatial location. Patients with damage to the hippocampal formation had a digit span equivalent to that of control subjects and also performed normally on the four tests of nonverbal short-term memory. The patients with Korsakoff's syndrome had a marginally low digit span and performed poorly on three of the four nonverbal tasks, a finding consistent with the deficits in attention and visuospatial processing previously described for this patient group. These deficits are likely due to the frontal lobe atrophy typically associated with Korsakoff's syndrome, rather than to diencephalic damage. The results support the view that short-term (immediate) memory, including short-term spatial memory, is independent of the hippocampus.

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