The electrophysiological correlates of recent and remote recollection

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Abstract

Research using event related potentials (ERPs) to explore recognition memory has linked late parietal old/new effects to the recollection of episodic information. In the vast majority of these studies, the retrieval phase immediately follows encoding and consequently, very little is known about the ERP correlates of long term recollection. This is despite the fact that in other areas of the memory literature there is considerable interest in consolidation theories and the way episodic memory changes over time. The present study explored the idea that consolidation and forgetting processes operating over a moderate retention interval can alter the ERP markers of recollection memory. A remember/know test probed memory for stimuli studied either 15 minutes (recent memory) or 1 week (remote memory) prior to the test phase. Results revealed an attenuated late parietal effect for remote compared to recent remember responses, a finding that remained significant even when these recognition judgments were matched for reaction time. Experiments 2a and 2b identified characteristic differences between recent and remote recognition at the behavioural level. The 1 week delay produced an overall decline in recognition confidence and a dramatic loss of episodic detail. These behavioural changes are thought to underlie the ERP effects reported in the first experiment. The results highlight that although the neural basis of memory may exhibit significant changes as the length of the retention interval increases, it is important to consider the extent to which this is a direct effect of time or an indirect effect due to changes in memory quality, such as the amount of detail that can be recollected.

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