The British Journal of Psychiatry
Amnesia: organic and psychogenic.
M D Kopelman


This paper describes the clinical features of selected examples of organic and psychogenic amnesia, and it discusses the nature of the dysfunction that these amnesias entail. The anterograde component of organic amnesia involves a severe impairment in acquiring (or learning) new information, rather than accelerated forgetting, and this may reflect an underlying limbic or neurochemical dysfunction. Retrograde amnesia has a basis which is (at least partially) independent of anterograde amnesia--in some patients, it appears to involve a failure to reconstruct past experience from contextual cues, and this may reflect a super-imposed frontal dysfunction. Two types of confabulation are discussed, one of which ('provoked') is a normal response to poor memory, and the other ('spontaneous') appears to reflect incoherent, context-free retrieval, associated with more severe frontal pathology. It is argued that many cases of psychogenic amnesia may resemble organic amnesia, in that they result from an impaired acquisition of information at the time of initial input, perhaps thereby predisposing the subject to subsequent retrieval difficulties.