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J Neurosci. 1998 Jun 15;18(12):4697-704.

Neural response during preference and memory judgments for subliminally presented stimuli: a functional neuroimaging study.

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Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


Preexposing subjects to visual stimuli is sufficient to establish a subsequent preference, even when previous exposure is subliminal, such that explicit recognition is at chance. This influence of previous exposure on preference judgments, known as the "mere exposure effect," is a form of unconscious memory. The present functional neuroimaging study examines the mechanism of this effect. Nine volunteer subjects were studied using functional imaging while making forced choice judgments about abstract stimuli on the basis of either preference or memory. Each judgment type was made under two conditions: under one condition one or the other stimulus had previously been presented subliminally, whereas under the second condition both stimuli were novel. Memory judgments were associated with activation of left frontopolar cortex and parietal areas, whereas preference judgments were associated with activation of medial prefrontal cortex and regions of occipital cortex. The modulation of preference by objective familiarity (implicit memory) was associated with right lateral frontal activation. Significant activation of hippocampal gyrus was seen in response to objective stimulus novelty, regardless of judgment type required. Our data thus demonstrate activations of a memory system independent of recollective experience. Dissociable activations within this system implicate a frontopolar involvement in explicit retrieval attempt and right lateral prefrontal cortex involvement in implicit memory expressed in preference judgments. Furthermore, the results suggest that hippocampal response to stimulus novelty can be independent of conscious reportability of familiarity.

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