Interactions of memory and perception in amnesia: The figure-ground perspective

Morgan D. Barense, Joan K.W. Ngo, Lily H.T. Hung, Mary A. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The medial temporal lobes (MTLs) have been thought to function exclusively in service of declarative memory. Recent research shows that damage to the perirhinal cortex (PRC) of the MTL impairs the discrimination of objects sharing many similar parts/features, leading to the hypothesis that the PRC contributes to the perception when the feature configurations, rather than the individual features, are required to solve the task. It remains uncertain, however, whether the previous research demands a slight extension of PRC function to include working memory or a more dramatic extension to include perception. We present 2 experiments assessing the implicit effects of familiar configuration on figure assignment, an early and fundamental perceptual outcome. Unlike controls, PRC-damaged individuals failed to perceive the regions portraying familiar configurations, as figure more often, than the regions comprising the same parts rearranged into novel configurations. They were also impaired in identifying the familiar objects. In a third experiment, PRC-damaged individuals performed poorly when asked to choose a familiar object from pairs of familiar and novel objects comprising the same parts. Our results demonstrate that the PRC is involved in both implicit and explicit perceptual discriminations of novel and familiar configurations. These results reveal that complex object representations in the PRC subserve both perception and memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2680-2691
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • amnesia
  • declarative memory
  • figure-ground perception
  • medial temporal lobe
  • perirhinal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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