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Fractionation of visuo-spatial memory processes in bipolar depression: a cognitive scaffolding account

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Peter GallagherORCiD, Dr John Gray



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Background. Previous studies of neurocognitive performance in bipolar disorder (BD) have demonstrated impairments in visuo-spatial memory. The aim of the present study was to use an object-location memory (OLM) paradigm to assess specific, dissociable processes in visuo-spatial memory and examine their relationship with broader neurocognitive performance.Method. Fifty participants (25 patients with BD in a current depressive episode and 25 matched healthy controls) completed the OLM paradigm which assessed three different aspects of visuo-spatial memory: positional memory, object-location binding, and a combined process. Secondary neurocognitive measures of visuo-spatial memory, verbal memory, attention and executive function were also administered.Results. BD patients were significantly impaired on all three OLM processes, with the largest effect in exact positional memory (d=1.18, p<0.0001). General deficits were also found across the secondary neurocognitive measures. Using hierarchical regression, verbal learning was found to explain significant variance on the OLM measures where object-identity was present (the object-location binding and combined processes) and accounted for the group difference. The group difference in precise positional memory remained intact.Conclusions. This study demonstrates that patients with bipolar depression manifest deficits in visuo-spatial memory, with substantial impairment in fine-grain, positional memory. The differential profile of processes underpinning the visuo-spatial memory impairment suggests a form of 'cognitive scaffolding', whereby performance on some measures can be supported by verbal memory. These results have important implications for our understanding of the functional cognitive architecture of mood disorder.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gallagher P, Gray JM, Kessels RPC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychological Medicine

Year: 2015

Volume: 45

Issue: 3

Pages: 545-558

Print publication date: 01/02/2015

Online publication date: 17/07/2014

Acceptance date: 19/06/2014

Date deposited: 31/03/2015

ISSN (print): 0033-2917

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8978

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714001676


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Funder referenceFunder name
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
GU0401207Medical Research Council
REF: 03T-429Stanley Medical Research Institute