Diazepam has well-known amnestic properties. These effects, however, are selective for certain psychobiologically distinct memory functions. In this study, incremental doses of diazepam administered to 10 normal volunteers selectively impaired anterograde episodic memory and attention while totally sparing access to information in long-term memory (semantic or knowledge memory). This pattern of disruption mimics that seen in patients with organic amnesias and is in sharp contrast to the pattern seen in patients with dementia. These findings provide a framework for defining specific psychobiological determinants of cognitive failure.