Neural mechanisms of context effects on face recognition: automatic binding and context shift decrements.

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Although people do not normally try to remember associations between faces and physical contexts, these associations are established automatically, as indicated by the difficulty of recognizing familiar faces in different contexts ("butcher-on-the-bus" phenomenon). The present fMRI study investigated the automatic binding of faces and scenes. In the face-face (F-F) condition, faces were presented alone during both encoding and retrieval, whereas in the face/scene-face (FS-F) condition, they were presented overlaid on scenes during encoding but alone during retrieval (context change). Although participants were instructed to focus only on the faces during both encoding and retrieval, recognition performance was worse in the FS-F than in the F-F condition ("context shift decrement" [CSD]), confirming automatic face-scene binding during encoding. This binding was mediated by the hippocampus as indicated by greater subsequent memory effects (remembered > forgotten) in this region for the FS-F than the F-F condition. Scene memory was mediated by right parahippocampal cortex, which was reactivated during successful retrieval when the faces were associated with a scene during encoding (FS-F condition). Analyses using the CSD as a regressor yielded a clear hemispheric asymmetry in medial temporal lobe activity during encoding: Left hippocampal and parahippocampal activity was associated with a smaller CSD, indicating more flexible memory representations immune to context changes, whereas right hippocampal/rhinal activity was associated with a larger CSD, indicating less flexible representations sensitive to context change. Taken together, the results clarify the neural mechanisms of context effects on face recognition.





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Hayes, Scott M, Elsa Baena, Trong-Kha Truong and Roberto Cabeza (2010). Neural mechanisms of context effects on face recognition: automatic binding and context shift decrements. J Cogn Neurosci, 22(11). pp. 2541–2554. 10.1162/jocn.2009.21379 Retrieved from

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Trong-Kha Truong

Associate Professor in Radiology

I co-lead the MR Engineering Lab, which is part of the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University.

Our research involves the development of novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) coil technologies – in particular integrated parallel reception, excitation, and shimming (iPRES) and integrated radio-frequency/wireless (iRFW) coils – to enable imaging, localized B0 shimming, and/or wireless communication with a single coil, thereby improving the image quality and clinical utility of MRI applications such as functional MRI and diffusion-weighted imaging in the human brain and body.

We also develop high-resolution diffusion tensor imaging techniques to investigate the microstructure of the human brain and to detect abnormalities in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.


Roberto Cabeza

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

My laboratory investigates the neural correlates of memory and cognition in young and older adults using fMRI. We have three main lines of research: First, we distinguish the neural correlates of various episodic memory processes. For example, we have compared encoding vs. retrieval, item vs. source memory, recall vs. recognition, true vs. false memory, and emotional vs. nonemotional memory. We are particularly interested in the contribution of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial temporal lobe (MTL) subregions and their interactions. Second, we investigate similarities and differences between the neural correlates of episodic memory and other memory and cognitive functions (working, semantic, implicit, and procedural memory; attention; perception, etc.). The main goal of this cross-functional approach is to understand the contributions of brain regions shared by different cognitive functions. Finally, in both episodic memory and cross-function studies, we also examine the effects of healthy and pathological aging. Regarding episodic memory, we have linked processes differentially affected by aging (e.g., item vs. source memory, recall vs. recognition) to the effects of aging on specific PFC and MTL subregions. Regarding cross-function comparisons, we identify age-related changes in activity that are common to various functions. For example, we have found an age-related increase in bilaterality that occurs for many functions (memory, attention, language, perception, and motor) and is associated with functional compensation.

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