Memory for relations in the short term and the long term after medial temporal lobe damage.
A central idea about the organization of declarative memory and the function of the hippocampus is that the hippocampus provides for the coding of relationships between items. A question arises whether this idea refers to the process of forming long-term memory or whether, as some studies have suggested, memory for relations might depend on the hippocampus even at short retention intervals and even when the task falls within the province of short-term (working) memory. The latter formulation appears to place the operation of relational memory into conflict with the idea that working memory is independent of medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures. In this report, the concepts of relational memory and working memory are discussed in the light of a simple demonstration experiment. Patients with MTL lesions successfully learned and recalled two word pairs when tested directly after learning but failed altogether when tested after a delay. The results do not contradict the idea that the hippocampus has a fundamental role in relational memory. However, there is a need for further elaboration and specification of the idea in order to explain why patients with MTL lesions can establish relational memory in the short term but not in long-term memory. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.