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Hippocampus, space, and memory

  • David S. Olton (a1), James T. Becker (a1) and Gail E. Handelmann (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2011

We examine two different descriptions of the behavioral functions of the hippocampal system. One emphasizes spatially organized behaviors, especially those using cognitive maps. The other emphasizes memory, particularly working memory, a short-term memory that requires iexible stimulus-response associations and is highly susceptible to interference. The predictive value of the spatial and memory descriptions were evaluated by testing rats with damage to the hippocampal system in a series of experiments, independently manipulating the spatial and memory characteristics of a behavioral task. No dissociations were found when the spatial characteristics of the stimuli to be remembered were changed; lesions produced a similar deficit in both spatial and nonspatial test procedures, indicating that the hippocampus was similarly involved regardless of the spatial nature of the task. In contrast, a marked dissociation was found when the memory requirements were altered. Rats with lesions were able to perform accurately in tasks that could be solved exclusively on the basis of reference memory. They performed at chance levels and showed no signs of recovery even with extensive postoperative training in tasks that required working memory. In one experiment all the characteristics of the reference memory and working memory procedures were identical except the type of memory required. Consequently, the behavioral dissociation cannot be explained by differences in attention, motivation, response inhibition, or the type of stimuli to be remembered. As a result of these experiments we propose that the hippocampus is selectively involved in behaviors that require working memory, irrespective of the type of material (spatial or nonspatial) that is to be processed by that memory.

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