Journal of Neuropsychology

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Volume 8 Issue 2 (September 2014), Pages 157-294

Neuropsychological function and memory suppression in conversion disorder (pages 171-185)

Conversion disorder (CD) is a condition where neurological symptoms, such as weakness or sensory disturbance, are unexplained by neurological disease and are presumed to be of psychological origin. Contemporary theories of the disorder generally propose dysfunctional frontal control of the motor or sensory systems. Classical (Freudian) psychodynamic theory holds that the memory of stressful life events is repressed. Little is known about the frontal (executive) function of these patients, or indeed their general neuropsychological profile, and psychodynamic theories have been largely untested. This study aimed to investigate neuropsychological functioning in patients with CD, focusing on executive and memory function. A directed forgetting task (DFT) using words with variable emotional valence was also used to investigate memory suppression. 21 patients and 36 healthy controls completed a battery of neuropsychological tests and patients had deficits in executive function and auditory‐verbal (but not autobiographical) memory. The executive deficits were largely driven by differences in IQ, anxiety and mood between the groups. A subgroup of 11 patients and 28 controls completed the DFT and whilst patients recalled fewer words overall than controls, there were no significant effects of directed forgetting or valence. This study provides some limited support for deficits in executive, and to a lesser degree, memory function in patients with CD, but did not find evidence of altered memory suppression to support the psychodynamic theory of repression.

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