Abstract

Medial-temporal lobe (MTL) lesions are associated with severe impairments in episodic memory. In the framework of the temporal context model, the hypothesized mechanism for episodic memory is the reinstatement of a prior experienced context (i.e., “jump back in time”), which relies upon the MTL [Howard, M. W., Fotedar, M. S., Datey, A. V., & Hasselmo, M. E. The temporal context model in spatial navigation and relational learning: Toward a common explanation of medial temporal lobe function across domains. Psychological Review, 112, 75–116, 2005]. This hypothesis has proven difficult to test in amnesia because of the floor-level performance by patients in recall tasks. To circumvent this issue, in this study, we used a “looped-list” format, in which a set of verbal stimuli was presented multiple times in a consistent order. This allowed for comparison of statistical properties such as probability of first recall and lag-conditional response probability (lag-CRP) between amnesic patients and healthy controls. Results revealed that the lag-CRP, but not the probability of first recall, is altered in amnesia, suggesting a selective disruption of temporal contiguity. To further characterize the results, we fit a scale-invariant version of the temporal context model [Howard, M. W., Shankar, K. H., Aue, W. R., & Criss, A. H. A distributed representation of internal time. Psychological Review, 122, 24–53, 2015] to the probability of first recall and lag-CRP curves. The modeling results suggested that the deficit in temporal contiguity in amnesia is best described as a failure to recover temporal context. These results provide the first direct evidence for an impairment in a jump-back-in-time mechanism in patients with MTL amnesia.

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