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Case Reports
, 32 (6), 675-91

The Great Escape: A Neuropsychological Study of Psychogenic Amnesia

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Case Reports

The Great Escape: A Neuropsychological Study of Psychogenic Amnesia

M D Kopelman et al. Neuropsychologia.

Abstract

This paper describes the neuropsychological test performance of a patient who experienced a "fugue" episode (functional retrograde amnesia) lasting 7 days, but who continued to complain of a virtually complete loss of autobiographical memory for well over a year. Subsequent evidence revealed that she had been at least partially simulating her amnesia during this prolonged period. Neuropsychological testing took place soon after admission to hospital, at intervals thereafter, and after an Amytal abreaction, which produced a substantial recovery of her memories. On various anterograde tests, designed to detect simulation, the patient's performance was unimpaired, including recognition memory tasks, word-stem completion priming for "neutral" word-lists and for post-onset autobiographical material, and some aspects of semantic memory. However, her pattern of performance on an autobiographical and a remote News Event test differentiated her from patients with organic amnesia, because she showed a grossly disproportionate autobiographical memory loss and an extreme recency effect. In addition, a rating scale, on which she showed impaired feelings-of-knowing for items from her autobiographical memory, suggested simulation. On a word-completion task for pre-onset autobiographical material, she showed absent "priming" relative to "baseline" material. However, following the Amytal abreaction, there was a substantial improvement on this task, relative to recognition and cued recall performance. This finding has been interpreted within an hierarchical model of awareness in memory, derived from studies of normal memory and organic amnesia; and it is suggested that patients with "psychogenic amnesia" may manifest different levels of awareness for differing memories.

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