Contextual information surrounding memories is crucial to memory encoding, storage, and retrieval. When a person experiences an event that is marked by vivid emotional reactions, they often are able to remember specific contextual facts related to that event. For example, a particularly joyous moment could be recalled with the exact details of where a person was when it happened and exactly when the moment occurred in life. However, this source discrimination of being able to isolate when and where appears to be diminished in people with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD).
According to a recent study by Anselm B.M. Fuermaier of the Department of Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, people with ADHD show deficits in some areas of memory processing, but not in others. Fuermaier used a word paradigm to test memory induction, storage, and retrieval in a sample of 77 participants, 37 of whom had ADHD. The participants were assessed for memory encoding, memory retention, and memory recall with source discrimination.
Fuermaier discovered that although memory encoding, learning of new material, and memory recall or retrieval of information were equal between the ADHD and non-ADHD participants, source discrimination was not. Specifically, the participants with ADHD had much lower levels of source discrimination than the controls. In other words, they were less able to describe when and where a prior autobiographical event had occurred and were unclear about the context of their memories.
This finding is extremely relevant, as it shows that people with ADHD have impairment attaching contextual meaning to memories. Fuermaier said, “Inefficient source discrimination in adults with ADHD can affect daily functioning by limiting biographic awareness and disturbing general cognitive processes.” Identifying these deficits and empowering individuals with ADHD by teaching them effective memory retrieval techniques could improve overall functioning and increase well-being in all domains of life.
Fuermaier, A.B.M., Tucha, L., Koerts, J., Aschenbrenner, S., Weisbrod, M., et al. (2013). Source Discrimination in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS ONE 8(5): e65134. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065134
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