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Neuropsychologia. 2009 Sep;47(11):2197-206. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.01.037. Epub 2009 Feb 4.

Retrograde episodic memory and emotion: a perspective from patients with dissociative amnesia.

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Department of Physiological Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany.


With his recent definition of episodic memory Tulving [Tulving, E. (2005). Episodic memory and autonoesis: Uniquely human? In H. Terrace & J. Metcalfe (Eds.), The missing link in cognition: Evolution of self-knowing consciousness (pp. 3-56). New York: Oxford University Press] claims that this memory system is uniquely human and thereby distinguishes human beings from other, even highly developed, mammals. First we will define the term episodic memory as it is currently used in neuropsychological research by specifying the three underlying concepts of subjective time, autono√ętic consciousness, and the self. By doing so, we will strongly focus on retrograde episodic memory and its relation to emotion and self-referential processing. We support this relation with a discussion of autobiographical memory functions in psychiatric disorders such as dissociative amnesia. To illustrate the connection of emotion and retrograde episodic memory we shortly present neuropsychological data of two cases of dissociative amnesia. Both cases serve to point to the protective mechanism of a block of self-endangering memories from the episodic memory system, often described as the mnestic block syndrome. On the basis of these cases and supportive results from further cases we will conclude by pointing out similarities and differences of patients with organic and dissociative (psychogenic) amnesia.

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