Temporal organization of narrative recall is present but attenuated in adults with hippocampal amnesia

Evans, M. J., Clough, S., Duff, M. C., & Brown‐Schmidt, S. (2024). Temporal organization of narrative recall is present but attenuated in adults with hippocampal amnesia. Hippocampus. Advance online publication. doi:10.1002/hipo.23620.
Studies of the impact of brain injury on memory processes often focus on the quantity and episodic richness of those recollections. Here, we argue that the organization of one's recollections offers critical insights into the impact of brain injury on functional memory. It is well-established in studies of word list memory that free recall of unrelated words exhibits a clear temporal organization. This temporal contiguity effect refers to the fact that the order in which word lists are recalled reflects the original presentation order. Little is known, however, about the organization of recall for semantically rich materials, nor how recall organization is impacted by hippocampal damage and memory impairment. The present research is the first study, to our knowledge, of temporal organization in semantically rich narratives in three groups: (1) Adults with bilateral hippocampal damage and severe declarative memory impairment, (2) adults with bilateral ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) damage and no memory impairment, and (3) demographically matched non-brain-injured comparison participants. We find that although the narrative recall of adults with bilateral hippocampal damage reflected the temporal order in which those narratives were experienced above chance levels, their temporal contiguity effect was significantly attenuated relative to comparison groups. In contrast, individuals with vmPFC damage did not differ from non-brain-injured comparison participants in temporal contiguity. This pattern of group differences yields insights into the cognitive and neural systems that support the use of temporal organization in recall. These data provide evidence that the retrieval of temporal context in narrative recall is hippocampal-dependent, whereas damage to the vmPFC does not impair the temporal organization of narrative recall. This evidence of limited but demonstrable organization of memory in participants with hippocampal damage and amnesia speaks to the power of narrative structures in supporting meaningfully organized recall despite memory impairment.
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