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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(14):2887-98. Epub 2006 Jul 28.

Selective preservation of memory for people in the context of semantic memory disorder: patterns of association and dissociation.

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University of Essex, Colchester, UK.


A number of single cases in the literature demonstrate that person-specific semantic knowledge can be selectively impaired after acquired brain damage compared with that of object categories. However, there has been little unequivocal evidence for the reverse dissociation, selective preservation of person-specific semantic knowledge. Recently, three case studies have been published which provide support for the claim that such knowledge can be selectively preserved [Kay, J., & Hanley, J. R. (2002). Preservation of memory for people in semantic memory disorder: Further category-specific semantic dissociation. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 19, 113-134; Lyons, F., Hanley, J. R., & Kay, J. (2002). Anomia for common names and geographical names with preserved retrieval of names of people: A semantic memory disorder. Cortex, 38, 23-35; Thompson, S. A, Graham, K. S., Williams, G., Patterson, K., Kapur, N., & Hodges, J. R. (2004). Dissociating person-specific from general semantic knowledge: Roles of the left and right temporal lobes. Neuropsychologia, 42, 359-370]. In this paper, we supply further evidence from a series of 18 patients with acquired language disorder. Of this set, a number were observed to be impaired on tests of semantic association and word-picture matching using names of object categories (e.g. objects, animals and foods), but preserved on similar tests using names of famous people. Careful methodology was applied to match object and person-specific categories for item difficulty. The study also examined whether preservation of person-specific semantic knowledge was associated with preservation of knowledge of 'biological categories' such as fruit and vegetables and animals, or with preservation of 'token' knowledge of singular categories such as countries. The findings are discussed in the context of a variety of accounts that examine whether semantic memory has a categorical structure.

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