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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2013 Jan;8(1):72-8. doi: 10.1177/1745691612469031.

Measuring Memory Reactivation With Functional MRI: Implications for Psychological Theory.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Stanford University benlevy@stanford.edu.
2
Department of Psychology, Stanford University Neurosciences Program, Stanford University.

Abstract

Environmental cues often remind us of earlier experiences by triggering the reactivation of memories of events past. Recent evidence suggests that memory reactivation can be observed using functional MRI and that distributed pattern analyses can even provide evidence of reactivation on individual trials. The ability to measure memory reactivation offers unique and powerful leverage on theoretical issues of long-standing interest in cognitive psychology, providing a means to address questions that have proven difficult to answer with behavioral data alone. In this article, we consider three instances. First, reactivation measures can indicate whether memory-based inferences (i.e., generalization) arise through the encoding of integrated cross-event representations or through the flexible expression of separable event memories. Second, online measures of memory reactivation may inform theories of forgetting by providing information about when competing memories are reactivated during competitive retrieval situations. Finally, neural reactivation may provide a window onto the role of replay in memory consolidation. The ability to track memory reactivation, including at the individual trial level, provides unique leverage that is not afforded by behavioral measures and thus promises to shed light on such varied topics as generalization, integration, forgetting, and consolidation.

KEYWORDS:

declarative memory; episodic memory; fMRI; relational memory

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