TORONTO, Nov. 22 /CNW/ - People with a devastating brain injury that has
wiped out many of their personal memories may still be able to understand
other people's feelings and intentions, according to a joint study by the
Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Centre for Aging and the Brain, and
York University's Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.
The study, published in the Nov. 23, 2007 issue of Science, reports that
severe loss of autobiographical episodic memory does not necessarily
compromise the ability to figure out the mental states of other people,
including their feelings and intentions.
For people with this distressing cognitive condition and for those caring
for them, there is a "hope" message in the findings, says lead investigator
Dr. Shayna Rosenbaum, a cognitive neuropsychologist at Baycrest's Rotman
Research Institute and assistant professor of psychology at York University.
Even though there might be some social consequences of losing your
autobiographical memory, it doesn't mean all is lost, Dr. Rosenbaum says. "The
person can still be in tune with others' feelings and intentions which can
help sustain social relationships, especially with loved ones. It's
encouraging to know that this ability may be more resilient and preserved in
us than was first thought."
Understanding the feelings and intentions of others is the basis of our
socialization and what makes us human. In scientific circles, an idea has
floated around for a long time that in order to imagine and make sense of
other people's thoughts, we must rely on our own personal autobiographical
recollections (episodic memory).
Dr. Rosenbaum and senior scientists at the Rotman - including the
world-renowned memory pioneer Dr. Endel Tulving, frontal lobes expert Dr.
Donald Stuss, and Dr. Brian Levine whose expertise is autobiographical memory
- had an extraordinary opportunity to test this long-held assumption in two
individuals with severely impaired autobiographical episodic memory.
These individuals and 14 healthy controls were put through a series of
tests widely known to be sensitive to Theory of Mind and perspective taking
(ie. the clear appreciation of empathy, deception, sarcasm and false beliefs
The two with impaired memory performed as well as healthy subjects on all
"We found that if you're trying to put yourself mentally in someone
else's shoes, you don't need to put yourself in your own shoes first," says
The study was funded by both Baycrest and York University, supported by
grants from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Centre for Stroke
Recovery, and the Louis and Leah Posluns Centre for Stroke and Cognition at
To read full press release, go to www.baycrest.org and www.yorku.ca.
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