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The Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and Retrograde Amnesia: Reflective Essay

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General Psychology Module Five Reflection

Human behavior is often followed by a pleasant or unpleasant outcome. When behaviors are followed by a desirable outcome, the behaviors are likely to be repeated. When behaviors are followed by an unpleasant outcome, they are less likely to occur (King, 2019). These pleasant and unpleasant outcomes are called reinforcements. Reinforcement is the process by which a stimulus or event (a reinforcer) following a particular behavior increases the probability that the behavior will happen again (King, 2019). These desirable consequences fall under two categories, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement. “In positive reinforcement, the frequency of a behavior increases because it is followed by a desirable stimulus” (King, 2019). In example, if someone is training their dog to go to the bathroom outside, a positive reinforcement would be to give the dog a treat when he uses the doggy door to go to the bathroom outside. The dog’s owner is positively reinforcing the dog to go to the bathroom outside. “In contrast, in negative reinforcement, the frequency of a behavior increases because it is followed by the removal of something undesirable” (King, 2019). An example of a negative reinforcement can be seen in the common situation of children not cleaning their room. The Mother of the child will nag their child to clean their room, when the child finally cleans their room, the Mother will stop nagging them. The Mother stopping her nagging serves as a negative reinforcement for the child to keep their room clean.

“Punishment is a consequence that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur” (King, 2019). Much like reinforcements, there are positive and negative punishments. “In positive punishment, a behavior decreases when it is followed by the presentation of a stimulus, whereas in negative punishment a behavior decreases when a stimulus removed” (King, 2019). One example of positive punishment is a coach making a player run sprints for showing up late to practice. The coach presented a stimuli that will decrease the player from showing up late to practice again. An example of negative punishment would include a parent grounding their teenager for poor grades. The parent removing their child from going out and seeing their friends decreases the chances of their child performing poorly in school.

Memory retrieval can be defined as when information that was retained in memory comes out of storage, much like a library (King, 2019). The human brain retrieves information similarly to how someone would locate and check out a book in a library. Retrieval is easiest when effective cues are present (King, 2019). Retrieval failure is an explanation of forgetting due to lack of or failure to use the right cue to retrieve information stored in memory; the information is not lost forever but it simply cannot be retrieved at that moment (King, 2019). According to psychologists, there are four factors that might cause retrieval failure. These factors include, “problems with the information in storage, the effects of time, personal reasons for remembering or forgetting, and the brain’s condition” (King, 2019). Psychologists have come up with many theories that coincide with these four factors. One theory that psychologists believe explains a common cause of retrieval failure is the decay theory. “According to decay theory, when we learn something new, a neurochemical memory trace forms, but over time this trace disintegrates. Decay theory suggests that the passage of time always increases forgetting” (King, 2019). Interference is another theorized cause of retrieval failure. In the interference theory, psychologists suggest that, “people forget not because memories are lost from storage but because other information gets in the way of what they want to remember” (King, 2019). A third example of retrieval failure could be demonstrated by those with amnesia. Amnesia is the loss of memory (King, 2019). Psychologists have linked two forms of amnesia to retrieval failure, anterograde amnesia, and retrograde amnesia. “Anterograde amnesia is a memory disorder that affects the retention of new information and events” (King, 2019). In contrast, retrograde amnesia involves memory loss for a segment of past events (King, 2019). “In retrograde amnesia the forgotten information is old- it occurred prior to the event that caused the amnesia- and the ability to acquire new memories is not affected” (King, 2019). Psychologists have discovered that Retrograde amnesia is much more common than anterograde amnesia, although in some rarer cases an individual could suffer from both anterograde and retrograde amnesia (King, 2019).

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The Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a degenerative brain disorder. Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome are actually two different conditions that often occur together. Both conditions are the result of brain damage caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency (Campellone, 2018).

“Korsakoff syndrome, or Korsakoff psychosis, tends to develop as Wernicke symptoms go away. Wernicke encephalopathy causes brain damage in lower parts of the brain called the thalamus and hypothalamus. Korsakoff psychosis results from permanent damage to areas of the brain involved with memory. (Campellone, 2018)

Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include confusion or loss of mental activity, loss of muscle coordination, changes in vision such as abnormal eye movement, memory loss, inability to form new memories, confabulation, and hallucinations (Campellone, 2018). The Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome has a huge impact on memory. In fact, some of the disorder’s most defining characteristics are the issues it has on the brain’s memory. The main symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff that affect memory are problems in acquiring new information or establishing new memories and retrieving previous memories (Campellone, 2018). Although Wernicke’s and Korsakoff’s are related disorders, some psychologists believe them to be different stages of the same disorder (Campellone, 2018). “Wernicke’s encephalopathy represents the ‘acute’ phase of the disorder and Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome represents the disorder progressing to a ‘chronic’ or long-lasting stage” (Campellone, 2018).


  1. King, L. (2019). The science of psychology: an appreciative view(4thed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
  2. Campellone, J. (2018). Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Retrieved from

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