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Visual short‐term memory for high resolution associations is impaired in patients with medial temporal lobe damage


The medial temporal lobe (MTL) plays a critical role in episodic long-term memory, but whether the MTL is necessary for visual short-term memory is controversial. Some studies have indicated that MTL damage disrupts visual short-term memory performance whereas other studies have failed to find such evidence. To account for these mixed results, it has been proposed that the hippocampus is critical in supporting short-term memory for high resolution complex bindings, while the cortex is sufficient to support simple, low resolution bindings. This hypothesis was tested in the current study by assessing visual short-term memory in patients with damage to the MTL and controls for high resolution and low resolution object-location and object-color associations. In the location tests, participants encoded sets of two or four objects in different locations on the screen. After each set, participants performed a two-alternative forced-choice task in which they were required to discriminate the object in the target location from the object in a high or low resolution lure location (i.e., the object locations were very close or far away from the target location, respectively). Similarly, in the color tests, participants were presented with sets of two or four objects in a different color and, after each set, were required to discriminate the object in the target color from the object in a high or low resolution lure color (i.e., the lure color was very similar or very different, respectively, to the studied color). The patients were significantly impaired in visual short-term memory, but importantly, they were more impaired for high resolution object-location and object-color bindings. The results are consistent with the proposal that the hippocampus plays a critical role in forming and maintaining complex, high resolution bindings. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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