The mind of the mnemonists: An MEG and neuropsychological study of autistic memory savants

Nicola Neumann, Anna M. Dubischar-Krivec, Christoph Braun, Andreas Löw, Fritz Poustka, Sven Bölte, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


About 10% of autistic individuals exhibit some form of islets of abilities in the face of serious intellectual or mental disability (" savant syndrome" ). The aim of this study was to investigate brain mechanisms in a sample of autistic subjects with outstanding memory.We investigated seven mnemonist savants with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder and seven matched controls with 151-channel whole-head magnetencephalography in a continuous old-new paradigm. They were presented with 300 pseudowords and 300 shapes and had to indicate by button press, whether the presented stimulus had been shown before. Unexpectedly, mnemonist savants did not perform better than controls, but were outperformed in the recognition of pseudowords. Accordingly, event-related magnetic fields elicited by pseudowords showed widespread old-new effects in controls, but not in savants. A source analysis of its early components revealed right occipital activation in savants, but left parietal activation in controls. This might be related to a visual processing style in mnemonist savants that proved to be inefficient in this task. During the possibly familiarity-based recognition of shapes, there were earlier and more widespread bilateral old-new effects in mnemonist savants, what might reflect their experience with figural material. In a neuropsychological test battery, mnemonist savants performed comparably to autistic people without special memory skills. However, a different factor structure of these tests pointed to a different organization of memory in mnemonist savants compared to controls that is characterized by its relative independence of general intelligence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Autism
  • Magnetencephalography
  • Mnemonists
  • Neuropsychology
  • Old-new paradigm
  • Recognition memory
  • Savant syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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