Imagery and retrieval of auditory and visual information: neural correlates of successful and unsuccessful performance.

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Remembering past events - or episodic retrieval - consists of several components. There is evidence that mental imagery plays an important role in retrieval and that the brain regions supporting imagery overlap with those supporting retrieval. An open issue is to what extent these regions support successful vs. unsuccessful imagery and retrieval processes. Previous studies that examined regional overlap between imagery and retrieval used uncontrolled memory conditions, such as autobiographical memory tasks, that cannot distinguish between successful and unsuccessful retrieval. A second issue is that fMRI studies that compared imagery and retrieval have used modality-aspecific cues that are likely to activate auditory and visual processing regions simultaneously. Thus, it is not clear to what extent identified brain regions support modality-specific or modality-independent imagery and retrieval processes. In the current fMRI study, we addressed this issue by comparing imagery to retrieval under controlled memory conditions in both auditory and visual modalities. We also obtained subjective measures of imagery quality allowing us to dissociate regions contributing to successful vs. unsuccessful imagery. Results indicated that auditory and visual regions contribute both to imagery and retrieval in a modality-specific fashion. In addition, we identified four sets of brain regions with distinct patterns of activity that contributed to imagery and retrieval in a modality-independent fashion. The first set of regions, including hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and angular gyrus, showed a pattern common to imagery/retrieval and consistent with successful performance regardless of task. The second set of regions, including dorsal precuneus, anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, also showed a pattern common to imagery and retrieval, but consistent with unsuccessful performance during both tasks. Third, left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex showed an interaction between task and performance and was associated with successful imagery but unsuccessful retrieval. Finally, the fourth set of regions, including ventral precuneus, midcingulate cortex and supramarginal gyrus, showed the opposite interaction, supporting unsuccessful imagery, but successful retrieval performance. Results are discussed in relation to reconstructive, attentional, semantic memory, and working memory processes. This is the first study to separate the neural correlates of successful and unsuccessful performance for both imagery and retrieval and for both auditory and visual modalities.





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Huijbers, Willem, Cyriel MA Pennartz, David C Rubin and Sander M Daselaar (2011). Imagery and retrieval of auditory and visual information: neural correlates of successful and unsuccessful performance. Neuropsychologia, 49(7). pp. 1730–1740. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.051 Retrieved from

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David C. Rubin

Juanita M. Kreps Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

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My main research interest has been in long-term memory, especially for complex (or "real-world") stimuli. This work includes the study of autobiographical memory and oral traditions, as well as prose. I have also studied memory as it is more commonly done in experimental psychology laboratories using lists. In addition to this purely behavioral research, which I plan to continue, I work on memory in clinical populations with the aid of a National Institute of Mental Health grant to study PTSD and on the underlying neural basis of memory the aid of a National Institute of Aging grant to study autobiographical memory using fMRI.

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