The Amnesias: A Clinical Textbook of Memory Disorders

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Ropper, et al. Accessed November 18, MLA Citation. Memory loss amnesia is unusual forgetfulness. You may not be able to remember new events, recall one or more memories of the past, or both. The memory loss may be for a short time and then resolve transient. Or, it may not go away, and, depending on the cause, it can get worse over time.

Normal aging can cause some forgetfulness.

It is normal to have some trouble learning new material or needing more time to remember it. But normal aging does not lead to dramatic memory loss. Such memory loss is due to other diseases. Memory loss can be caused by many things.


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To determine a cause, your health care provider will ask if the problem came on suddenly or slowly. Many areas of the brain help you create and retrieve memories. A problem in any of these areas can lead to memory loss. Memory loss may be a sign of dementia. Dementia also affects thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Because feigners want to convince the forensic psychologist or psychiatrist that they suffer from memory problems, they often perform substantially poorer on the TOMM than bona fide patients with memory disorders.

The TOMM contains two learning trials where the examinee is shown 50 line drawings of common objects. Both trials are followed by a forced choice recognition task. A retention trial given 15 min after the second learning trial consists of the forced choice recognition task only. A number of studies have shown that the TOMM has good psychometric properties 40 , A drawback of the above-described questionnaires and tests is that they can only be used in cases where the offender claims that his or her inability to remember crime-related details is the result of a general memory deficit due to, for instance, sleeping problems, use of certain prescription drugs or a neurological disorder.

The Amnesias: A Clinical Textbook of Memory Disorders

In such cases, symptom validity testing might be helpful in assessing the authenticity of claims of crime-related amnesia. Symptom validity testing SVT was originally created to assess the credibility of hearing problems More recently, it has been used as an instrument to assess the veracity of crime-related amnesia 45 , For each question, the examinee must choose between two equally plausible answers, one of which is correct and the other is incorrect. True memory loss for a crime should result in random performance on the SVT.

If significantly more incorrect answers are given than correct answers, an offender is performing below chance level performance. This can only be achieved when one is intentionally giving incorrect answers, which is indicative of having preserved memory for criminal events. Because SVT is based on binomial statistics, the exact probability of a deviant memory performance can be quantified see case below.

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Unfortunately, SVT can only be used in a limited number of cases. In addition, in a proper SVT procedure, only the offender and the police should have intimate knowledge of the crime. It should be noted here that offenders who feign amnesia for a crime are lying about their memory loss. For that reason, psychophysiological and neural measures created to detect lying 48 might also be used to evaluate the authenticity of a crime-related amnesia claim.

However, these measures have not yet been used in forensic practice. This article started with the case of Randy who claimed to have no memory of the stabbing of his girlfriend. At the time of the offense, he had not consumed any alcohol or illegal drugs. Moreover, he did not take any prescription drugs and neither was he suffering from a psychiatric or somatic disorder. Therefore, it seems unlikely that he suffered from a deranged hippocampus during the fatal incident. Randy said that he had complete amnesia for the stabbing.

Neuropsychological Assessment of Memory

Thus, he did not report any islands of memory. His score on the SIMS was 32, indicating a strong indication of a tendency to feign psychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairments. When the police started their investigation, they had no clear picture regarding the manner in which the offense was committed. Using blood spatter patterns, the wounds on the victim's body, and other physical evidence, the NFI was able to almost completely reconstruct the offense.

This information was not provided to Randy or his attorney. Based on the crime reconstruction, an SVT consisting of 25 two choice questions was created. Each question was followed by a correct and an incorrect answer. These 25 questions were given to a panel of 10 forensic psychologists, who were asked to give the most plausible answer to each question. This procedure showed that five of the questions did not contain two equally plausible answering options. Thus, the final SVT consisted of 20 questions.

Taken together, there was converging evidence that Randy had feigned his amnesia for the stabbing.

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The court also found his amnesia claim not credible. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. There are multiple strategies for forensic psychologists and psychiatrists to examine the veracity of crime-related amnesia claims.


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  • When asked to evaluate such claims, it would be best to use a multi-method approach Especially in cases where offenders might have suffered from a deranged hippocampus at the time of the crime, forensic psychologists, and psychiatrists are advised to exercise restraint in labeling memory loss for a crime as non-credible. Only when there is converging evidence for feigning, crime-related amnesia may be deemed not authentic In order to determine whether or not the offender suffered from a deranged hippocampus at the time of the offense, a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist should have solid knowledge of neuropsychology and psychopharmacology.

    Although clinical features of the amnesia may yield important information about the authenticity of the memory loss reported by the offender, they cannot always be used. Because offenders may have intimate knowledge of memory loss, those who report bona-fide symptoms of amnesia may still be feigning their amnesia.

    Tests may shed important light on the veracity of memory loss for a crime. However, when an offender does not have a reason to feign memory problems during the forensic evaluation e. In such cases, it would be informative to develop and administer an SVT to determine the authenticity of the memory loss reported by the offender.

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    The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication. The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Leitch, A Notes on amnesia in crime for the general practitioner. Med Press — Google Scholar. Psychol Med. J Forensic Psychiatry Psychol. Ger J Psychiatry — Stout, RG, and Farooque, RS Claims of amnesia for criminal offenses: psychopathology, substance abuse, and malingering.

    J Forensic Sci. What people believe about memory. Memory — Magnussen, S, and Melinder, A What psychologists know and believe about memory: a survey of practitioners. Appl Cogn Psychol. Melinder, A, and Magnussen, S Psychologists and psychiatrists serving as expert witnesses in court: what do they know about eyewitness memory?

    Psychol Crime Law — Implications for the science and pseudoscience of clinical practice. Can J Psychiatry —7. Int J Law Psychiatry — PubMed Abstract Google Scholar. Oxford: Blackwell In: Papanicolaou AC, editor. The Amnesias. A Clinical Textbook of Memory Disorders. Oxford: Oxford University Press Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law — White, AM What happened?

    Alcohol, memory blackouts, and the brain.