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Psychol Bull. 2010 Jan;136(1):87-102. doi: 10.1037/a0017937.

The ghosts of brain states past: remembering reactivates the brain regions engaged during encoding.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA. jdanker@andrew.cmu.edu


There is growing evidence that the brain regions involved in encoding an episode are partially reactivated when that episode is later remembered. That is, the process of remembering an episode involves literally returning to the brain state that was present during that episode. This article reviews studies of episodic and associative memory that provide support for the assertion that encoding regions are reactivated during subsequent retrieval. In the first section, studies are reviewed in which neutral stimuli were associated with different modalities of sensory stimuli or different valences of emotional stimuli. When the neutral stimuli were later used as retrieval cues, relevant sensory and emotion processing regions were reactivated. In the second section, studies are reviewed in which participants used different strategies for encoding stimuli. When the stimuli were later retrieved, regions associated with the different encoding strategies were reactivated. Together, these studies demonstrate not only that the encoding experience determines which regions are activated during subsequent retrieval but also that the same regions are activated during encoding and retrieval. In the final section, relevant questions are posed and discussed regarding the reactivation of encoding regions during retrieval.

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