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Compensating for Language Deficits in Amnesia II: H.M.’s Spared versus Impaired Encoding Categories

Author(s): Donald G. MacKay | Laura W. Johnson | Chris Hadley

Journal: Brain Sciences
ISSN 2076-3425

Volume: 3;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 415;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: amnesic H.M. | encoding versus retrieval errors | sentence planning | spared encoding categories | language deficits in amnesia | compensation strategies in amnesia

Although amnesic H.M. typically could not recall where or when he met someone, he could recall their topics of conversation after long interference-filled delays, suggesting impaired encoding for some categories of novel events but not others. Similarly, H.M. successfully encoded into internal representations (sentence plans) some novel linguistic structures but not others in the present language production studies. For example, on the Test of Language Competence (TLC), H.M. produced uncorrected errors when encoding a wide range of novel linguistic structures, e.g., violating reliably more gender constraints than memory-normal controls when encoding referent-noun, pronoun-antecedent, and referent-pronoun anaphora, as when he erroneously and without correction used the gender-inappropriate pronoun “her” to refer to a man. In contrast, H.M. never violated corresponding referent-gender constraints for proper names, suggesting that his mechanisms for encoding proper name gender-agreement were intact. However, H.M. produced no more dysfluencies, off-topic comments, false starts, neologisms, or word and phonological sequencing errors than controls on the TLC. Present results suggest that: (a) frontal mechanisms for retrieving and sequencing word, phrase, and phonological categories are intact in H.M., unlike in category-specific aphasia; (b) encoding mechanisms in the hippocampal region are category-specific rather than item-specific, applying to, e.g., proper names rather than words; (c) H.M.’s category-specific mechanisms for encoding referents into words, phrases, and propositions are impaired, with the exception of referent gender, person, and number for encoding proper names; and (d) H.M. overuses his intact proper name encoding mechanisms to compensate for his impaired mechanisms for encoding other functionally equivalent linguistic information.

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