A summary classification about the psychopathologies of memory, differentiated and described.
The human being is made up of memories. What we are is nothing more than what we are capable of remembering and integrating, the experiences that were lived in the past and defined us. This is why memory is such an important and valuable cognitive function.
Some life circumstances, from the unstoppable passage of time to the appearance of diseases or the appearance of accidents of various kinds, can compromise the way in which it is expressed temporarily or permanently.
In this article we will address the phenomenon of memory psychopathologies, that is, the ways in which memory can be altered (both in its ability to retrieve pieces of information and in any other of its properties).
We will also reserve a space for other mnesic phenomena that can occur in the general population, and that do not suggest any underlying disorder.
There are many diseases and situations that can condition the functioning of memory, since it is a widely distributed dimension in the brain parenchyma. In this article we will delve into the different forms of amnesia and the anomalies of memory or recognition, that is, in the psychopathologies of memory.
The term “amnesia”, of Greek origin (and which could be translated as “forgetfulness”), subsumes an extensive group of memory disorders; heterogeneous with regard to its origin, prognosis and clinical expression. We will delve into each of them below.
1.1. Retrograde amnesia
Retrograde amnesia is perhaps the best known memory problem. It is described as a specific difficulty to evoke past events, but the ability to create new memories remains unchanged.
It mainly affects episodic information, or what is the same, the events experienced (while maintaining the semantics, procedural, etc.). It is usually one of the multiple consequences derived from brain trauma, or from demented diseases that affect large regions of the nervous system.
1.2. Anterograde amnesia
Anterograde amnesia is a memory compromise that is characterized by the difficulty or impossibility of generating new memories from a specific moment. So what is disrupted is consolidation, or the process that transfers information from the short-term warehouse to the long-term warehouse (where it remains fixed for the longest time). The memory of the past remains intact.
Brain injuries to the hippocampal structures have been consistently associated with this type of problem, as well as drug or drug abuse (alcohol, benzodiazepines, etc.).
1.3. Transient global amnesia
These are acute episodes in which the person suffering from this problem expresses the difficulty of remembering events beyond the last ones that happened in their life ; although perception, attention and the rest of cognitive processes are maintained at their basal level of functioning.
Access to more distant memories is usually also affected; but not so the name, identity, origin or other basic information consolidated in deep layers of self-definition (as well as the ability to carry out actions over which it had control).
The person may be emotionally affected, as he is aware of the deficit that grips him. Particularly suggestive of this problem is the perseverance in actions and the questions that are asked of the people around them, since the answer is almost immediately forgotten. The episode usually resolves within a few hours (less than 24), and the underlying cause remains largely unknown.
1.4. Lacunar amnesia
Lacunar amnesia describes the inability to access information about specific events or periods, with very specific time coordinates. The person could remember everything that happened both before and after the events, but never what happened during them. It is related to the specific laxity of the level of attention or to altered states of consciousness (such as coma), but it is also common in strokes and trauma.
1.5. Post-traumatic amnesia
Post-traumatic amnesia has an obvious etiology: a blow to the head. Although it can manifest itself in various ways, and have a clinical presentation similar to that described in antegrade / retrograde, it has the particularity of being a reliable indicator of the severity of the trauma suffered. In mild cases it can last for just a few minutes, while in severe cases (more than a day) it can become permanent.
1.6. Functional amnesia
Functional amnesia describes any memory impairment for which an organic cause cannot be identified after carrying out all kinds of examinations, among which neuroimaging tests stand out. On the other hand, a careful assessment of the circumstances in which it develops does allow it to be associated with highly emotionally charged events, which would become its most probable cause. One of the most common cases is that of post-traumatic stress, although it can also be observed in dissociative disorders (from flight to dissociative identity).
1.7. Infantile amnesia
Infantile amnesia is one whose presence is natural during childhood, as a result of incomplete neurological development. Deficient hippocampal maturation is implicated in the phenomenon, which prevents the formation of declarative memories.
Despite this circumstance, the early development of the amygdala does facilitate the articulation of an emotional imprint for these events, despite the fact that during adulthood they cannot be described using exact words. It is for this reason that, although what happened during the first years cannot be remembered, it can affect us emotionally.
2. Memory abnormalities
Memory abnormalities are common in the general population, although some of them appear preferentially under the influence of the consumption of certain substances or a pathology of the central nervous system. In subsequent lines we will explore what they are and what they may be due to.
2.1. Incomplete personal memory
This phenomenon occurs at the moment when we coincide with a person with whom we have already done it in the past, and although we are aware of such nuance, we cannot identify what we know her about (or where). In this case, a memory is produced, although attenuated and incomplete, since some of the information is not available. It is a common experience that is associated with the absence of contextual clues that facilitate the process, that is, the fact of finding the person in an unusual space (different from the one in which we usually place them).
2.2. Feeling of knowing
It is a feeling (bordering on certainty) that we have knowledge about a specific event, or about a term, although we ultimately fail to prove it. It happens especially with words or concepts, which although they are familiar when we read or hear about them, we cannot evoke their exact meaning. This produces an imprecise recognition, motivated by the morphological kinship of two terms: one really known and the other that is believed to be known.
2.3. Tip of the tongue
The phenomenon of the tip of the tongue (also known as Top of Tongue or simply TOT) describes the extremely uncomfortable sensation that arises when we are unable to pronounce a specific word, despite knowing it and wanting to use it in the context of a conversation. This phenomenon is more frequent in terms of rare use, although it also occurs in the most common, and tends to be exacerbated under conditions of fatigue or stress. It may be more common, too, as the years go by.
Often the person comes to remember some of the properties of the word that he intends to use, such as the beginning or the end, and tries to carry out a subvocalization in order to “find it”. Paradoxically, this effort often inhibits the emergence of such a long-awaited word, since it is a reality that is very often revealed only when we stop thinking about it.
2.4. Temporary lagoon
Temporal gaps are moments in life in which, due to a significant lack of attention, we have not been able to make an evocable memory of what happened. It can happen while an activity automated by habit (driving, cooking, etc.) is being carried out, so that its development would take place while we are thinking about other things, and we do not form memories about what happened “in the meantime “. It is a kind of self-absorption or even distraction, in which awareness of time is lost.
2.5. Verification of tasks
Some tasks are carried out so routinely that even though attention was paid while they were being done, it can be difficult to discriminate whether they were actually carried out or not. This is so because its repetition exerts an interference effect, and the person manifests difficulty in identifying if the memory that is in his “head” corresponds to this last occasion or if it is actually the trace of a previous day. The “problem” leads to constant checking of action (closing a door, turning off the stove, etc.).
Pseudomemory is a generic category that includes all those processes in which a false or completely inaccurate memory is evoked. The most frequent of them is conspiracy, which consists of the “fabrication” of false memories to fill in the empty spaces of those who (for various reasons) cannot evoke the entirety of some lived episode. The purpose here is, therefore, to give meaning to an experience that lacks it because of its incompleteness, like a puzzle that is missing key pieces to solve it.
Another example is fantastic pseudology. In this case, false memories are deliberately created, but which cannot be explained by memory gaps, but rather by an unresolved affective need. It would seek to generate “events” consistent with the desire to feel one way or another, which would tend to accentuate their intensity in the event that the interlocutor shows interest in them (until they become completely impossible and truly fanciful acts).
Finally, many authors include delusional memories in this category, through which the person forms reminiscences of a past that never took place. However, such a construction makes sense because it links the experience of the present (distorted by delusion) with the past, thus drawing a time line congruent with the content of current thoughts and perceptions.
3. Recognition anomalies
Recognition anomalies are errors in the way a memory or stimulus located in the present is processed, and that could be summarized as false positive recognitions (feeling that a fact that is being experienced for the first time is “remembered”) or false negative acknowledgments (perception that something lived before appears before our eyes as totally new).
3.1. Deja vu
Déjà vu is a well-known sensation, since practically all of us have been able to experience it at some point. It is about the perception that a really new situation is burnished with great familiarity, as if it were not the first time it has been passed through. In colloquial language, it tends to be expressed as “this sounds to me” or “I’ve been here.” Over the years, numerous hypotheses have been postulated to explain it, from spiritual to properly scientific, although the reason why it occurs is not yet clear.
In recent times its occurrence has been highlighted together with psychiatric disorders, mainly depersonalization, as well as in the context of epilepsies or lesions of the temporal cortex. In the case of people without pathology, it is much shorter and less intense.
Finally, there are many people who believe in the possibility that the experience of déjà vu would allow them to predict particular events that could take place while it unfolds, a distorted belief that has been coined under the heading of “pseudopresenting”.
3.2. Jamais vu
The jamais vu is the mirror of déjà vu, in a way that could be understood as opposites. In the present case, the person faces a situation that he or she had already experienced at least once, but does not perceive any familiarity at all. Thus, although he is aware of an identical or very similar previous experience, he values the fact as if it were completely novel. It is less common than déjà vu, and can occur to people who are sensitive to slight spatial modifications that take place in familiar environments (fading as quickly as it takes to identify the change).
Cryptomnesia consists of the firm belief that a memory is not such, but that it is an original production. In this way, they run the risk of adopting other people’s ideas or reflections as their own, since their access to memory lacks familiarity and / or recognition. It is common in scientific and artistic fields, and has motivated countless lawsuits for plagiarism or the misuse of intellectual property over the years.
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