On the role of the hippocampus in the acquisition, long-term retention and semanticisation of memory
Gingell, Sarah M
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A consensus on how to characterise the anterograde and retrograde memory processes that are lost or spared after hippocampal damage has not been reached. In this thesis, I critically re-examine the empirical literature and the assumptions behind current theories. I formulate a coherent view of what makes a task hippocampally dependent at acquisition and how this relates to its long-term fate. Findings from a neural net simulation indicate the plausibility of my proposals. My proposals both extend and constrain current views on the role of the hippocampus in the rapid acquisition of information and in learning complex associations. In general, tasks are most likely to require the hippocampus for acquisition if they involve rapid, associative learning about unfamiliar, complex, low salience stimuli. However, none of these factors alone is sufficient to obligatorily implicate the hippocampus in acquisition. With the exception of associations with supra-modal information that are always dependent on the hippocampus, it is the combination of factors that is important. Detailed, complex information that is obligatorily hippocampally-dependent at acquisition remains so for its lifetime. However, all memories are semanticised as they age through the loss of detailed context-specific information and because generic cortically-represented information starts to dominate recall. Initially hippocampally dependent memories may appear to become independent of the hippocampus over time, but recall changes qualitatively. Multi-stage, lifelong post-acquisition memory processes produce semanticised re-representations of memories of differing specificity and complexity, that can serve different purposes. The model simulates hippocampal and cortical interactions in the acquisition and maintenance of episodic and semantic events, and behaves in accordance with my proposals. In particular, conceptualising episodic and semantic memory as representing points on a continuum of memory types appears viable. Support is also found for proposals on the relative importance of the hippocampus and cortex in the rapid acquisition of information and the acquisition of complex multi-model information; and the effect of existing knowledge on new learning. Furthermore, episodic and semantic events become differentially dependent on cortical and hippocampal components. Finally, as a memory ages, it is automatically semanticised and becomes cortically dependent.