In "Memento" the main character has got anterograde amnesia, but he's aware of it. Is it even possible and how, if it is? Compare it to "50 First Dates" — the heroine is not aware of her condition.

Imagine you wake up in the morning. How would you come to awareness that you've got anterograde amnesia, if you don't remember anything since the moment you got it, including that? And even if you find this out by logical thinking, you'll forget it soon (in "Memento", what, in several minutes?)


2 Answers 2


Yes it is possible. It is very common for normal individuals to feel like they should remember something, but are then unable to actually recall the contents of that particular memory. This feeling of knowing is called metamemory.

This study by Art Shimamura and Larry Squire found that

patients with severe anterograde amnesia can produce accurate feeling-of-knowing judgments. Thus, impaired feeling-of-knowing accuracy is not an obligatory feature of amnesia

So, some of those patients may wake up each morning and soon realize that something is amiss, as they are unable to recall facts or events that they feel they should be able to recall.


A very famous neurological patient, Henry Molaison (known as H.M. in the literature until his death) had severe anterograde amnesia. I don't believe he remembered the details of his condition, but he knew that he couldn't remember things, and he knew that something was wrong with him. I have never read any solid explanation of how that might work; I have heard a conjecture that when it is the hippocampi that are primarily affected, then the patient is aware, but this theory becomes a bit doubtful when you realize that H.M. had more extensive damage than was initially thought (it was not only his hippocampus that was extracted but the entire medial temporal lobe).

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    $\begingroup$ I read that H. M. still was able to form procedural memories. I wonder, if it was possible that he formed a procedural memory regarding his memorization skill (or rather lack of it)? Or can procedural memories be only motor? (Sorry if I asked something stupid, I'm an absolute ignoramus regarding psychology.) $\endgroup$
    – codeholic
    Nov 26, 2014 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ Good thought! But no, procedural memory is how to do something (as contrasts with semantic memory, knowledge about the world), so procedural memory about his memory is probably not possible. However, it seems he could create new memories to some degree by explicitly tying the new stuff to old memories, so that might be one possible mechanism--although I believe he never succeeded in encoding that he moved house several times after the surgery, which would seem highly amenable to the "added information" strategy. $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Nov 28, 2014 at 23:26

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