Hippocampal damage causes profound yet circumscribed memory impairment across diverse stimulus types and testing formats. Here, within a single test format involving a single class of stimuli, we identified different performance errors to better characterize the specifics of the underlying deficit. The task involved study and reconstruction of object arrays across brief retention intervals. The most striking feature of patients' with hippocampal damage performance was that they tended to reverse the relative positions of item pairs within arrays of any size, effectively "swapping" pairs of objects. These "swap errors" were the primary error type in amnesia, almost never occurred in healthy comparison participants, and actually contributed to poor performance on more traditional metrics (such as distance between studied and reconstructed location). Patients made swap errors even in trials involving only a single pair of objects. The selectivity and severity of this particular deficit creates serious challenges for theories of memory and hippocampus.
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