Perceptual learning, awareness, and the hippocampus

Hippocampus. 2001;11(6):776-82. doi: 10.1002/hipo.1093.


Declarative memory depends on the hippocampus and related medial temporal lobe and diencephalic structures. Declarative memory has usually been found to be available to conscious recollection. A recent study (Chun and Phelps, Nat Neurosci 1999;2:844-847) found that damage to the medial temporal lobe (including the hippocampus) impaired performance on a perceptual learning task, yet the learning was accomplished in the absence of memory for the stimuli. This finding raised the possibility that some hippocampus-dependent tasks may be inaccessible to awareness and may be performed without evoking conscious memory processes. Using the same task, we show that when damage is confined largely to the hippocampal formation, perceptual learning is intact. Thus, the available data suggest that damage limited to the hippocampal formation does not impair nonconscious (nondeclarative) memory. Further, the data do not contradict the idea that hippocampus dependent memory is accessible to conscious recollection. Finally, perceptual learning was impaired in patients, with extensive damage to the medial temporal lobe and with additional variable damage to lateral temporal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amnesia / diagnosis
  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Amnesia / psychology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Encephalitis, Viral / diagnosis
  • Encephalitis, Viral / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis, Viral / psychology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology