a1 Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, England
All recent memory theories of hippocampal function have incorporated the idea that the hippocampus is required to process items only of some qualitatively specifiahle kind, and is not required to process items of some complementary set. In contrast, it is now proposed that the hippocampus is needed to process stimuli of all kinds, but only when there is a need to associate those stimuli with other events that are temporally discontiguous. In order to form or use temporally discontiguous associations, it is essential to maintain some memory of the first component until the second component has occurred. When the temporal gap to he spanned is small, and the number of items to be temporarily retained is low, a limited-capacity, short-term store is sufficient to allow associations to be formed. Such a store is presumed to operate in parallel with the hippocampus in normal animals. Hippocampal damage disrupts a much higher-capacity store that has a slower decay rate, and so leaves animals with only a very limited ability to form temporally discontiguous associations. Hippocampal damage, however, is not held to affect the long-term storage of associations of any kind, if they can be formed. Analyses of both new and existing data are presented to show that by classifying tasks in terms of the need to use a temporary memory store to retain temporally discontiguous information one can cut right across existing classifications as well as achieve a better fit to the data. The hippocampus thus seems best described as a high-capacity, intermediate-term memory store.