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Activation of stimulus-specific processing regions at retrieval tracks the strength of relational memory

1 Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL, USA
2 Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, Urbana, IL, USA
3 Department of Psychology, California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA, USA

Many theories of episodic memory posit that the subjective experience of recollection may be driven by the activation of stimulus-specific cortical regions during memory retrieval. This study examined cortical activation during associative memory retrieval to identify brain regions that support confidence judgments of source memory in stimulus-specific ways. Adjectives were encoded with either a picture of a face or a scene. During a source memory test, the word was presented alone and the participant was asked if the word had been previously paired with a face or a scene. We identified brain regions that were selectively active when viewing pictures of scenes or faces with a separate localizer scan. We then identified brain regions that were differentially activated to words during the source memory test that had been previously paired with faces or scenes, masked by the localizer activations, and examined how those regions were modulated by the strength of the source memory. Bilateral amygdala activation tracked source memory confidence for faces, while parahippocampal cortex tracked source memory confidence for scenes. The magnitude of the activation of these domain-specific perceptual-processing brain regions during memory retrieval may contribute to the subjective strength of episodic recollection.
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