During episodic recognition tests, meaningful stimuli such as words can engender both conscious retrieval (explicit memory) and facilitated access to meaning that is distinct from the awareness of remembering (conceptual implicit memory). Neuroimaging investigations of one type of memory are frequently subject to the confounding influence of the other type of memory, thus posing a serious impediment to theoretical advances in this area. We used minimalist visual shapes (squiggles) to attempt to overcome this problem. Subjective ratings of squiggle meaningfulness varied idiosyncratically, and behavioral indications of conceptual implicit memory were evident only for stimuli given higher ratings. These effects did not result from perceptual-based fluency or from explicit remembering. Distinct event-related brain potentials were associated with conceptual implicit memory and with explicit memory by virtue of contrasts based on meaningfulness ratings and memory judgments, respectively. Frontal potentials from 300 to 500 msec after the onset of repeated squiggles varied systematically with perceived meaningfulness. Explicit memory was held constant in this contrast, so these potentials were taken as neural correlates of conceptual implicit memory. Such potentials can contaminate putative neural correlates of explicit memory, in that they are frequently attributed to the expression of explicit memory known as familiarity. These findings provide the first neural dissociation of these two memory phenomena during recognition testing and underscore the necessity of taking both types of memory into account in order to obtain valid neural correlates of specific memory functions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience