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Rule knowledge aids performance on spatial and object alternation tasks by alcoholic patients with and without Korsakoff’s amnesia

Authors Bardenhagen F, Oscar-Berman M, Bowden SC

Published 15 January 2008 Volume 2007:3(6) Pages 907—918


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Fiona J Bardenhagen1,2, Marlene Oscar-Berman3, Stephen C Bowden2,4

1School of Psychology, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; 2Clinical Neurosciences, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia; 3Division of Psychiatry and Departments of Neurology and Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine; and Psychology Research Service, US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System, Jamaica Plain Campus, MA, USA; 4School of Behavioural Science, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

Abstract: Delayed alternation (DA) and object alternation (OA) tasks traditionally have been used to measure defective response inhibition associated with dysfunction of frontal brain systems. However, these tasks are also sensitive to nonfrontal lesions, and cognitive processes such as the induction of rule-learning strategies also are needed in order to perform well on these tasks. Performance on DA and OA tasks was explored in 10 patients with alcohol-induced persisting amnestic disorder (Korsakoff’s syndrome), 11 abstinent long-term alcoholics, and 13 healthy non-alcoholic controls under each of two rule provision conditions: Alternation Rule and Correction Rule. Results confirmed that rule knowledge is a crucial cognitive component for solving problems such as DA and OA, and therefore, that errors on these tasks are not due to defective response inhibition alone. Further, rule-induction strategies were helpful to Korsakoff patients, despite their poorer performance on the tasks. These results stress the role of multiple cognitive abilities in successful performance on rule induction tasks. Evidence that these cognitive abilities are served by diffusely distributed neural networks should be considered when interpreting behavioral impairments on these tasks.

Keywords: alcoholism, Korsakoff’s syndrome, comparative neuropsychology, perseveration, rule induction, working memory

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