The case study of Clive Wearing (CW), one of the most famous in cognitive psychology, was undertaken by Oliver Sacks. Sacks was intrigued with how herpes viral encephalitis, which Wearing contacted in 1985, impacted CW’s memory. At the time, CW was a musician. The disease destroyed parts of his central nervous system especially the hippocampus. Sacks wanted to understand how this illness affected CW’s mental processes. To find areas of damage, brain scans were used. Sacks also observed and interviewed CW. The case study lasted over two decades. Sacks concluded that CW suffered from both anterograde amnesia (failure to store memories after the illness) and retrograde amnesia (failure to recall memories before the illness). His anterograde amnesia supports the multi-store model as his short-term memory had been left largely intact but he could not transfer new memories from his short-term memory to his long-term memory.

Sacks himself is just as famous for his other case studies. His website outlines his enduring interest in human behaviour until his death in 2015. His best-known works include The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a HatMusicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and An Anthropologist on Mars.

Awakenings, his book about a group of patients who survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film. Robin Williams portrays Sacks as he experiments with dopamine to awaken patients from decades of catatonia.

You can see a trailer of the film here and read this blog post about the film, The Accuracy of the Film Awakenings.


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