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People with rare type of memory loss still sensitive to others, study shows
Date:11/22/2007

Toronto, Canada People with a devastating brain injury that has wiped out many of their personal memories may still be able to understand other peoples feelings and intentions, according to a joint study by the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Centre for Aging and the Brain, and York Universitys Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

The study, published in the Nov. 23, 2007 issue of Science, reports that severe loss of autobiographical episodic memory does not necessarily compromise the ability to figure out the mental states of other people, including their feelings and intentions.

For people with this distressing cognitive condition and for those caring for them, there is a hope message in the findings, says lead investigator Dr. Shayna Rosenbaum, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Baycrests Rotman Research Institute and assistant professor of psychology at York University.

Even though there might be some social consequences of losing your autobiographical memory, it doesnt mean all is lost, Dr. Rosenbaum says. The person can still be in tune with others feelings and intentions which can help sustain social relationships, especially with loved ones. Its encouraging to know that this ability may be more resilient and preserved in us than was first thought.

Understanding the feelings and intentions of others is the basis of our socialization and what makes us human. Its known as Theory of Mind and associated with the prefrontal cortex. In scientific circles, an idea has floated around for a long time that in order to imagine and make sense of other peoples thoughts, we must rely on our own personal autobiographical recollections (episodic memory). But some scientists have been skeptical of this assumption and wondered if Theory of Mind abilities can exist without episodic memory.

Dr. Rosenbaum and senior scientists at the Rotman including the world-renowned memory pioneer Dr. Endel Tulving, frontal
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Contact: Kelly Connelly
kconnelly@baycrest.org
416-785-2432
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Source:Eurekalert

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