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Anomalies of Autobiographical Memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

King's Authors


Objectives:In this paper, I review three 'anomalies' or disorders in autobiographical memory: neurological retrograde amnesia (RA), spontaneous confabulation, and psychogenic amnesia.Methods:Existing theories are reviewed, their limitations considered, some of my own empirical findings briefly described, and possible interpretations proposed and interspersed with illustrative case-reports.Results:In RA, there may be an important retrieval component to the deficit, and factors at encoding may give rise to the relative preservation of early memories (and the reminiscence bump) which manifests as a temporal gradient. Spontaneous confabulation appears to be associated with a damaged 'filter' in orbitofrontal and ventromedial frontal regions. Consistent with this, an empirical study has shown that both the initial severity of confabulation and its subsequent decline are associated with changes in the executive function (especially in cognitive estimate errors) and inversely with the quantity of accurate autobiographical memories retrieved. Psychogenic amnesia can be 'global' or 'situation-specific'. The former is associated with a precipitating stress, depressed mood, and (often) a past history of a transient neurological amnesia. In these circumstances, frontal control mechanisms can inhibit retrieval of autobiographical memories, and even the sense of 'self' (identity), while compromised medial temporal function prevents subsequent retrieval of what occurred during a 'fugue'. An empirical investigation of psychogenic amnesia and some recent imaging studies have provided findings consistent with this view.Conclusions:Taken together, these various observations point to the importance of frontal 'control' systems (in interaction with medial temporal/hippocampal systems) in the retrieval and, more particularly, the disrupted retrieval of 'old' memories.

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