Reconstructing relational information

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Hippocampal involvement in learning and remembering relational information has an extensive history, often focusing specifically on spatial information. In humans, spatial reconstruction (SR) paradigms are a powerful tool for evaluating an individuals' spatial-relational memory. In SR tasks, participants study locations of items in space and subsequently reconstruct the studied display after a short delay. Previous work has revealed that patients with hippocampal damage are impaired both in overall placement accuracy as well as on a specific measure of relational memory efficacy, "swaps" (i.e., when the relative location of two items is reversed). However, the necessity of the hippocampus for other types of spatial-relational information involved in reconstruction behaviors (e.g., where in the environment and relative to which other items an item was located) have not yet been investigated systematically. In this work, three patients with hippocampal damage and nine healthy matched comparison participants performed an SR task. An analysis framework was developed to independently assess three first-order types of relations: (1) memory for the binding of specific item identities to locations, (2) memory for arrangement of items in relation to each other or the environment bounds, regardless of memory for the item identity, and (3) higher-order, compound relational errors (i.e., errors involving multiple pieces of relational information). Reconstruction errors were evaluated to determine the degree to which patients and comparisons differed (or not) on each type of spatial-relational information. Data revealed that the primary group difference in performance was for identity-location information. However, when the locations of items were evaluated without regarding the identities, no group difference was found in the number of item placements to studied locations. The present work provides a principled approach to analysis of SR data and clarifies our understanding of the types of spatial relations impaired in hippocampal damaged.

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