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Dissociating neural markers of stimulus memorability and subjective recognition during episodic retrieval.


While much of memory research takes an observer-centric focus looking at participant performance, recent work has pinpointed important item-centric effects on memory, or how intrinsically memorable a given stimulus is. However, little is known about the neural correlates of memorability during memory retrieval, or how such correlates relate to subjective memory behavior. Here, stimuli and blood-oxygen-level dependent data from a prior functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study were reanalyzed using a memorability-based framework. In that study, sixteen participants studied 200 novel face images and were scanned while making recognition memory judgments on those faces, interspersed with 200 unstudied faces. In the current investigation, memorability scores for those stimuli were obtained through an online crowd-sourced (N = 740) continuous recognition test that measured each image's corrected recognition rate. Representational similarity analyses were conducted across the brain to identify regions wherein neural pattern similarity tracked item-specific effects (stimulus memorability) versus observer-specific effects (individual memory performance). We find two non-overlapping sets of regions, with memorability-related information predominantly represented within ventral and medial temporal regions and memory retrieval outcome-related information within fronto-parietal regions. These memorability-based effects persist regardless of image history, implying that coding of stimulus memorability may be a continuous and automatic perceptual process.

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