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Islands of memory: Autobiographical remembering in amnestics

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In amnestics with anterograde amnesia, memories of post-onset autobiographical experiences, if present at all, are typically barren and impoverished. However, there have been sporadic reports of islands of memory—memories that are vivid, detailed, and specific to time and place. The aim of this study was to verify the presence of such memories and examine their incidence rate. Anterograde amnestics were interviewed in their home using a narrative interviewing strategy with a view to describing memory in everyday life. Each autobiographical memory of a post-onset event was coded for quantity–length, and quality–episodicity. In just over half of the amnestics (8 out of 14), a memory that was lengthy, rich in personal details, and localisable was recollected. The quantitative and qualitative aspects of these island memories were significantly different from the other autobiographical memories that the amnestics supplied. These memories were at odds with what would be expected on the basis of their performance on standardised memory instruments. Our findings suggest there is occasionally more variability in remembering of autobiographical experiences in some amnestics than has traditionally been believed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The New School, New York, NY, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2006

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