P3 potentials evoked by spoken words were recorded from seven patients with disorders of recent memory and seven age-matched controls. Inclusion criteria included a clearly identifiable P3 to pure tone stimuli. Absence or marked decrement of P3 to word stimuli was seen in the patients even though they could perform the word task. The results are consistent with an encoding disorder and failure in elaboration of information processing. © 1987 American Academy of Neurology.