Memorability: A stimulus-driven perceptual neural signature distinctive from memory

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A long-standing question in neuroscience is how perceptual processes select stimuli for encoding and later retrieval by memory processes. Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging study with human participants, we report the discovery of a global, stimulus-driven processing stream that we call memorability. Memorability automatically tags the statistical distinctiveness of stimuli for later encoding, and shows separate neural signatures from both low-level perception (memorability shows no signal in early visual cortex) and classical subsequent memory based on individual memory. Memorability and individual subsequent memory show dissociable neural substrates: first, memorability effects consistently emerge in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), whereas individual subsequent memory effects emerge in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Second, memorability effects remain consistent even in the absence of memory (i.e., for forgotten images). Third, the MTL shows higher correlations with memorability-based patterns, while the PFC shows higher correlations with individual memory voxels patterns. Taken together, these results support a reformulated framework of the interplay between perception and memory, with the MTL determining stimulus statistics and distinctiveness to support later memory encoding, and the PFC comparing stimuli to specific individual memories. As stimulus memorability is a confound present in many previous memory studies, these findings should stimulate a revisitation of the neural streams dedicated to perception and memory.

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