The effect of hippocampal damage in children on recalling the past and imagining new experiences

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jun;49(7):1843-50. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.03.008. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Compared to adults, relatively little is known about autobiographical memory and the ability to imagine fictitious and future scenarios in school-aged children, despite the importance of these functions for development and subsequent independent living. Even less is understood about the effect of early hippocampal damage on children's memory and imagination abilities. To bridge this gap, we devised a novel naturalistic autobiographical memory task that enabled us to formally assess the memory for recent autobiographical experiences in healthy school-aged children. Contemporaneous with the autobiographical memories being formed, the children also imagined and described fictitious scenarios. Having established the performance of healthy school-aged children on these tasks, we proceeded to make comparisons with children (n=21) who had experienced neonatal hypoxia/ischaemia, and consequent bilateral hippocampal damage. Our results showed that healthy children could recall autobiographical events, including spatiotemporal information and specific episodic details. By contrast, children who had experienced neonatal hypoxia/ischaemia had impaired recall, with the specific details of episodes being lost. Despite this significant memory deficit they were able to construct fictitious scenarios. This is in clear contrast to adults with hippocampal damage, who typically have impaired autobiographical memory and deficits in the construction of fictitious and future scenarios. We speculate that the paediatric patients' relatively intact semantic memory and/or some functionality in their residual hippocampi may underpin their scene construction ability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Child
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / injuries*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia, Brain / psychology
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology