The effects of item familiarity on the neural correlates of successful associative memory encoding

Nancy A. Dennis, Indira C. Turney, Christina E. Webb, Amy A. Overman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Associative memory is considered to be resource-demanding, requiring individuals to learn individual items and the specific relationships between those items. Previous research has shown that prior studying of items aids in associative memory for pairs composed of those same items, as compared to pairs of items that have not been prelearned (e.g., Kilb & Naveh-Benjamin, 2011). In the present study, we sought to elucidate the neural correlates mediating this memory facilitation. After being trained on individual items, participants were scanned while encoding item pairs composed of items from the pretrained phase (familiarized-item pairs) and pairs whose items had not been previously learned (unfamiliarized-item pairs). Consistent with previous findings, the overall subsequent recollection showed the engagement of bilateral parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) and hippocampus, when compared to subsequent forgetting. However, a direct comparison between familiarized- and unfamiliarized-item pairs showed that subsequently recollected familiarized-item pairs were associated with decreased activity across much of the encoding network, including bilateral PHG, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and regions associated with item-specific processing within occipital cortex. Increased activity for familiarized-item pairs was found in a more limited set of regions, including bilateral parietal cortex, which has been associated with the formation of novel associations. Additionally, activity in the right parietal cortex correlated with associative memory success in the familiarized condition. Taken together, these results suggest that prior exposure to items can reduce the demands incurred on neural processing throughout the associative encoding network and can enhance associative memory performance by focusing resources within regions supporting the formation of associative links.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-900
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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