9.00SC | Fall 2011 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Psychology

Memory II: Amnesia and Memory Systems

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Session Overview

What conditions can impair your memory? How is your memory affected by these impairments? In this lecture, we will study amnesia, how it can influence our memory systems and how amnesia patients have helped us pinpoint areas in the brain crucial to memory. A particular highlight of this session is Prof. Gabrieli’s stories of working as a graduate student directly the famous amnesiac patient H. M.

Keywords: memory systems, amnesia, anterograde amnesia, retrograde amnesia, hippocampus, Huntington’s disease, patient H.M., declarative memory, procedural memory

Cartoon of someone who has just been ‘amnesiacked.’ (Image by MIT OpenCourseWare).

Session Activities


Read the following before watching the lecture video.

  • [Sacks] Chapter 2 “The Lost Mariner” (pp. 23-42)
  • Finish the chapter you started for the previous session:

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Discussion: Memory

So, if the essential task of a memory system is to carry information forward in time, what properties should that system have? Think about the memory devices you use in everyday life: A USB stick, a post-it note, your mind, etc. What do they need to be able to do?… Read more »

Check Yourself

Name, describe and give examples of the two types of explicit memory and the three types of implicit memory.

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The three types of explicit memory are semantic memory and episodic memory. Semantic memory is our facts and general knowledge about the world. The three types of implicit memory are procedural memory, priming, and learning through conditioning. Procedural memory consists of or motor and cognitive skills, or know how to do certain things. Priming is enhanced identification of objects and words, or changes in behavor as a result of recent experiences. Learning through conditioning is learning to expect rewards or punishment under certain conditions.

Examples of each type of memory:

Semantic: The sky is blue, dogs have fur, Africa is below Europe.

Explicit Memory: What you had for breakfast, your first date, what you did for your birthday.

Procedural: How to hit a baseball, how to do simple arithmetic, how to start your car.

Priming: Seeing a river and someone says they are going to the bank. Priming will make it more likely for you to think they are going to the bank of a river or stream rather than a bank to withdraw money.

Learning through conditioning: After several years in elementary school you learn to associate a good report card with the expectation of a reward, such as cookies or a new toy from your parents.

Further Study

These optional resources are provided for students that wish to explore this topic more fully.

Supplemental reading Sacks, Oliver. “The Abyss: Music and Amnesia.” The New Yorker, 2007. An article by Oliver Sacks about an individual with retrograde amnesia and his wife.
Blog post Neurophilosophy blogger. “Amnesia in the movies.” Scienceblogs.com, 2009. Prof. Gabrieli talks about how inaccurate most portrayals of amnesia in popular media are; this article gives some examples of movies that get it right.

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Fall 2011
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