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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2012 Jul;38(4):860-80. doi: 10.1037/a0028064.

Studies of implicit prototype extraction in patients with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer's disease.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Studies of incidental category learning support the hypothesis of an implicit prototype-extraction system that is distinct from explicit memory (Smith, 2008). In those studies, patients with explicit-memory impairments due to damage to the medial-temporal lobe performed normally in implicit categorization tasks (Bozoki, Grossman, & Smith, 2006; Knowlton & Squire, 1993). However, alternative interpretations are that (a) even people with impairments to a single memory system have sufficient resources to succeed on the particular categorization tasks that have been tested (Nosofsky & Zaki, 1998; Zaki & Nosofsky, 2001) and (b) working memory can be used at time of test to learn the categories (Palmeri & Flanery, 1999). In the present experiments, patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer's disease were tested in prototype-extraction tasks to examine these possibilities. In a categorization task involving discrete-feature stimuli, the majority of subjects relied on memories for exceedingly few features, even when the task structure strongly encouraged reliance on broad-based prototypes. In a dot-pattern categorization task, even the memory-impaired patients were able to use working memory at time of test to extract the category structure (at least for the stimulus set used in past work). We argue that the results weaken the past case made in favor of a separate system of implicit prototype extraction.

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