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Relational and conjunctive binding functions dissociate in short-term memory

Author(s): M. A. Parra, K. Fabi, S. Luzzi, R. Cubelli, M. Hernandez Valdez, S. Della Sala

Abstract:
Remembering complex events requires binding features within unified objects (conjunctions) and holding associations between objects (relations). Recent studies suggest that the two functions dissociate in long-term memory (LTM). Less is known about their functional organization in short-term memory (STM). The present study investigated this issue in patient AE affected by a stroke which caused damage to brain regions known to be relevant for relational functions both in LTM and in STM (i.e., the hippocampus). The assessment involved a battery of standard neuropsychological tasks and STM binding tasks. One STM binding task (Experiment 1) presented common objects and common colors forming either pairs (relations) or integrated objects (conjunctions). Free recall of relations or conjunctions was assessed. A second STM binding task used random polygons and non-primary colors instead (Experiment 2). Memory was assessed by selecting the features that made up the relations or the conjunctions from a set of single polygons and a set of single colors. The neuropsychological assessment revealed impaired delayed memory in AE. AE's pronounced relational STM binding deficits contrasted with his completely preserved conjunctive binding functions in both Experiments 1 and 2. Only 2.35% and 1.14% of the population were expected to have a discrepancy more extreme than that presented by AE in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively. Processing relations and conjunctions of very elementary nonspatial features in STM led to dissociating performances in AE. These findings may inform current theories of memory decline such as those linked to cognitive aging.

Full version: Available here

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ISBN: 1465-3656 (Electronic)1355-4794 (Linking)
Publication Year: 2013
Periodical: Neurocase
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Volume:
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Author Address: a Human Cognitive Neuroscience and Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, Psychology , University of Edinburgh , 7 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ UK.