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Published March 23, 2005 | Published
Journal Article Open

Emotional Autobiographical Memories in Amnesic Patients with Medial Temporal Lobe Damage


The recollection of emotional autobiographical memories has received little attention in patients with memory disorders. Here, we addressed this topic in amnesic patients with damage to the hippocampus (HC group; n = 8) or the hippocampus, amygdala, and surrounding cortices (HC+ group; n = 2). These patients were asked to recollect emotional events from their lives. HC patients produced recollections that were strikingly similar to those of brain-damaged (n = 10) and healthy (n = 25) comparison participants, in terms of both quantity and quality. In contrast, HC+ patients produced a lower proportion of unpleasant memories compared with the other participants. Specifically, the ratings and words used to describe recollections in the HC+ patients were more affectively positive. All groups produced more memories from between 10 and 30 years of age (the so-called autobiographical memory "bump") compared with other time periods in their lives. These results suggest that structures surrounding the hippocampus, but not the hippocampus itself, may be necessary for the recollection of highly emotional, unpleasant autobiographical memories. The amygdala and surrounding cortices of the medial temporal lobe may be a necessary component in the neural circuitry necessary for vivid recollection of unpleasant emotional events.

Additional Information

© 2005 Society for Neuroscience. Beginning six months after publication the Work will be made freely available to the public on SfN's website to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Received Sept. 17, 2004; revised Jan. 26, 2005; accepted Feb. 13, 2005. This work was supported by a National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Aging to T.W.B., by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Program Project Grant P01 19632, and by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01 067681. We thank Benjamin R. Lewis for assistance with data collection and Joel Bruss, John Allen, and Hanna Damasio (Human Neuroanatomy and Neuroimaging Laboratory, University of Iowa) for the volumetric data presented in this study.

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