Paradoxical False Memory for Objects After Brain Damage

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Science  03 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6009, pp. 1408-1410
DOI: 10.1126/science.1194780

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Novel or Familiar?

Amnesia is characterized by a number of memory deficits, including the apparent inability to distinguish between novel and familiar stimuli. McTighe et al. (p. 1408; see the Perspective by Eichenbaum) observed that the recognition memory of brain-damaged rats in a standard model of amnesia was impaired not because previously experienced objects seemed to be novel, but because objects not previously experienced seemed to be familiar. Furthermore, simply placing the animal in a visually deprived environment during the delay, reducing visual interference, completely rescued the impairment. This counterintuitive finding contradicts the predominant “multiple memory systems” model in which amnesia is usually considered and forces a reconsideration of fundamental assumptions underlying our understanding of amnesia.


Poor memory after brain damage is usually considered to be a result of information being lost or rendered inaccessible. It is assumed that such memory impairment must be due to the incorrect interpretation of previously encountered information as being novel. In object recognition memory experiments with rats, we found that memory impairment can take the opposite form: a tendency to treat novel experiences as familiar. This impairment could be rescued with the use of a visual-restriction procedure that reduces interference. Such a pattern of data can be explained in terms of a recent representational-hierarchical view of cognition.

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