Event congruency enhances episodic memory encoding through semantic elaboration and relational binding

Bernhard P. Staresina, James C. Gray, Lila Davachi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Behavioral research consistently shows that congruous events, that is, events whose constituent elements match along some specific dimension, are better remembered than incongruous events. Although it has been speculated that this "congruency subsequent memory effect" (cSME) results from enhanced semantic elaboration, empirical evidence for this account is lacking. Here, we report a set of behavioral and neuroimaging experiments demonstrating that congruous events engage regions along the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) - consistently related to semantic elaboration - to a significantly greater degree than incongruous events, providing evidence in favor of this hypothesis. Critically, we additionally report 3 novel findings in relation to event congruency: First, congruous events yield superior memory not only for a given study item but also for associated source details. Second, the cSME is evident not only for events that matched a semantic context but also for those that matched a subjective aesthetic schema. Finally, functional magnetic resonance imaging brain/behavior correlation analysis reveals a strong link between 1) across-subject variation in the magnitude of the cSME and 2) differential right hippocampal activation, suggesting that episodic memory for congruous events is effectively bolstered by the extent to which semantic associations are generated and relationally integrated via LIFG-hippocampal- encoding mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1198-1207
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Episodic memory
  • FMRI
  • Hippocampus
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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