Dissociable neural mechanisms for goal-directed versus incidental memory reactivation

Brice A. Kuhl, Marcia K. Johnson, Marvin M. Chun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Remembering a past event involves reactivation of distributed patterns of neural activity that represent the features of that event-a process that depends on associative mechanisms supported by medial temporal lobe structures. Although efficient use of memory requires prioritizing those features of a memory that are relevant to current behavioral goals (target features) over features that may be goal-irrelevant (incidental features), there remains ambiguity concerning how this is achieved. We tested the hypothesis that although medial temporal lobe structures may support reactivation of both target and incidental event features, frontoparietal cortex preferentially reactivates those features that match current goals. Here, human participants were cued to remember either the category (face/ scene) to which a picture belonged (category trials) or the location (left/right) in which a picture appeared (location trials). Multivoxel pattern analysis of fMRI data were used to measure reactivation of category information as a function of its behavioral relevance (target vs incidental reactivation). In ventral/medial temporal lobe (VMTL) structures, incidental reactivation was as robust as target reactivation. In contrast, frontoparietal cortex exhibited stronger target than incidental reactivation; that is, goal-modulated reactivation. Reactivation was also associated with later memory. Frontoparietal biases toward target reactivation predicted subsequent memory for target features, whereas incidental reactivation in VMTL predicted subsequent memory for nontested features. These findings reveal a striking dissociation between goal-modulated reactivation in frontoparietal cortex and incidental reactivation in VMTL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16099-16109
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number41
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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