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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Jul;24(2):326-34.

The role of multisensory memories in unisensory object discrimination.

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  • 1Division Autonome de Neuropsychologie, The Functional Electrical Neuroimaging Laboratory, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland.


Past multisensory experiences can influence current unisensory processing and memory performance. Repeated images are better discriminated if initially presented as auditory-visual pairs, rather than only visually. An experience's context thus plays a role in how well repetitions of certain aspects are later recognized. Here, we investigated factors during the initial multisensory experience that are essential for generating improved memory performance. Subjects discriminated repeated versus initial image presentations intermixed within a continuous recognition task. Half of initial presentations were multisensory, and all repetitions were only visual. Experiment 1 examined whether purely episodic multisensory information suffices for enhancing later discrimination performance by pairing visual objects with either tones or vibrations. We could therefore also assess whether effects can be elicited with different sensory pairings. Experiment 2 examined semantic context by manipulating the congruence between auditory and visual object stimuli within blocks of trials. Relative to images only encountered visually, accuracy in discriminating image repetitions was significantly impaired by auditory-visual, yet unaffected by somatosensory-visual multisensory memory traces. By contrast, this accuracy was selectively enhanced for visual stimuli with semantically congruent multisensory pasts and unchanged for those with semantically incongruent multisensory pasts. The collective results reveal opposing effects of purely episodic versus semantic information from auditory-visual multisensory events. Nonetheless, both types of multisensory memory traces are accessible for processing incoming stimuli and indeed result in distinct visual object processing, leading to either impaired or enhanced performance relative to unisensory memory traces. We discuss these results as supporting a model of object-based multisensory interactions.

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