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Amnesia Halts Future Thinking: Study

Amnesiacs get stuck in ‘present’ - the common cause of amnesia, also prevents victims from thinking about the future, forcing them to live only in the present.

Researchers, reporting their study in Tuesday's issue //of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, examined people with damages to the hippocampus, part of the brain that is crucial in learning and memory.

Though, it has long been known that damage to the hippocampus causes amnesia, the team led by Dr. Eleanor Maguire further investigated if there were other affects.

People with amnesia could not imagine specific situations or see themselves going to future events such as a party – say the Experts. They studied five patients with amnesia and 10 controls to imagine and describe in detail seven common settings such as a beach or a pub and three possible future events such as Christmas or a future meeting with a friend.

Those with amnesia could not imagine plausible future events or general fictitious experiences. They could describe separate images, but could not visualize the whole experience in their mind.

'We found that the role played by the hippocampus in processing memory was far broader than merely reliving past experiences,' Maguire said in a statement. 'It also seems to support the ability to imagine any kind of experience including possible future events. In that sense, people with damage to the hippocampus are forced to live in the present.'

'The patients reported that they were unable to visualize the whole experience in their mind's eye, seeing instead just a collection of separate images,' she added.

'Memories are there to help is use past events to shape future events or future plans. One of the most interesting findings is the spatial context. It's not just being in a particular space, what also matters is the imagining of a particular space.
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