Laird S. Cermak Memory Disorders Research Center Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center Boston University School of Medicine
The overriding message that I have received from Endel Tulving's work is that memory is a process, not a depository. His study of the relationship between encoding at acquisition and the process of reconstruction at retrieval has become central to my own research. His influence has greatly structured my search for those places in the processing of information that are impaired in the amnesic patient. In addition, his thesis has provided the rationale for my belief that there is no such thing as a single or "core" amnesia. If Tulving is correct that memory is a process, then amnesia must be a consequence of deficient processing. Deficient processing might occur at various places along a processing continuum for different patients. The net result would be an inability to acquire and retain new information, but the processing factors contributing to this outcome might not be identical for all patient populations. The purpose of the present chapter is to depict some of these processing deficits and to show how research with amnesic populations can be used to differentiate amongst types of processing abilities.
A distinction between analysis and encoding is one that has had to be made because investigators of the amnesic syndrome have discovered that the general definition of an encoding deficit as an input disorder covers too many sins ( Cermak, in press). It is clear that all amnesics are inept in storing or encoding new information, but they seem to differ in the extent to which they can adequately analyze incoming information. Some amnesics (alcoholic Korsakoff pa