Deficits in memory for figurative detail, spatial composition and the spatial location of objects in a scene have been reported postoperatively in right temporal lobectomy patients. The aim of this study was to examine whether these deficits can be used as a sign of lateralised dysfunction in pre-surgical temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) patients. Sixty-nine patients with lateralised TLE (27 right, 42 left) were assessed on a battery of neuropsychological tests, including tests of general intellectual functioning and psychomotor speed and standardised memory tests involving the learning and recall of verbal and non-verbal material. A new task, the "Aspects of Spatial Memory Test" (AoSMT), based on the experimental tasks developed by Pigott and Milner was also administered. The RTLE and LTLE groups did not differ in their overall level of intellectual function or on measures of cognitive and motor speed. On the AoSMT the LTLE group recognised significantly more figurative detail changes than the RTLE group. In addition, the RTLE group took significantly longer than the LTLE group to identify changes in orientation, figurative detail and filled/unfilled spaces. Poor scores on the AoSMT were significantly correlated with quantitative MRI measures of right hippocampal pathology. The clinical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.