Korsakoff's syndrome (KS) is characterized by explicit amnesia, but relatively spared implicit memory. The aim of this study was to assess to what extent KS patients can acquire spatial information while performing a spatial navigation task. Furthermore, we examined whether residual spatial acquisition in KS was based on automatic or effortful coding processes. Therefore, 20 KS patients and 20 matched healthy controls performed six tasks on spatial navigation after they navigated through a residential area. Ten participants per group were instructed to pay close attention (intentional condition), while 10 received mock instructions (incidental condition). KS patients showed hampered performance on a majority of tasks, yet their performance was superior to chance level on a route time and distance estimation tasks, a map drawing task and a route walking task. Performance was relatively spared on the route distance estimation task, but there were large variations between participants. Acquisition in KS was automatic rather than effortful, since no significant differences were obtained between the intentional and incidental condition on any task, whereas for the healthy controls, the intention to learn was beneficial for the map drawing task and the route walking task. The results of this study suggest that KS patients are still able to acquire spatial information during navigation on multiple domains despite the presence of the explicit amnesia. Residual acquisition is most likely based on automatic coding processes
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