Memory Deficits in Chronic Alcoholics: Continuities between the “Intact” Alcoholic and the Alcoholic Korsakoff Patient

  • Christopher Ryan
  • Nelson Butters
  • Kathleen Montgomery
  • Allen Adinolfi
  • Bernard Didario
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 126)


The past twenty years have seen extensive study of cognitive deficits in a relatively rare species of alcoholic — the alcoholic with Korsakoff’s syndrome (e.g., Talland, 1965; Butters & Cermak, 1974, 1976). Much of this research has focused on the Korsakoff patients’ severe anterograde amnesia. Clinically, such individuals have difficulty retaining new information for more than a few minutes, and perform poorly on a wide variety of formal verbal learning and short-term memory tasks (e.g., Cermak, Butters, & Goodglass, 1971; Cermak & Butters, 1973). Recent studies have attributed these deficits to an alteration in the types of remembering strategies used by such patients. Compared to neurologically intact control subjects, Korsakoff patients are less likely to spontaneously rehearse verbal information (Cermak, Naus, & Reale, 1976), and are more likely to encode the phonemic, rather than the semantic, features of the to-be-remembered material (Cermak, Butters, & Gerrein, 1973). This more primitive processing is thought to produce relatively fragile memory traces (Craik, 1973; Cermak, 1977). Perhaps as a result of this defective encoding, Korsakoff patients also display a remarkable sensitivity to the effects of proactive interference (Cermak & Butters, 1972).


Retention Interval Memory Deficit Korsakoff Patient Alcoholic Subject Information Processing Deficit 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Ryan
    • 1
  • Nelson Butters
    • 1
  • Kathleen Montgomery
    • 1
  • Allen Adinolfi
    • 2
  • Bernard Didario
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychology Service, Boston VA Hospital and Neurology DepartmentBoston University School of MedicineUSA
  2. 2.Center for Problem DrinkingVA Outpatient ClinicBostonUSA

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