Retrieval processing and episodic memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 2000 Mar;4(3):108-115. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(00)01445-5.


The emergence of brain imaging has had a major impact on research into the cognitive and neural bases of human memory. An area in which this impact has been particularly strong is retrieval processing - the processes engaged when attempting to retrieve information during a memory test. Several different classes of retrieval process - such as 'mode', 'effort' and 'success' - have been invoked to account for findings from neuroimaging studies of episodic retrieval. In this article we discuss how these different kinds of process, along with a fourth kind associated with 'retrieval orientation', can be investigated in brain imaging experiments. We then review studies of retrieval processing, and assess how well their designs match up to our proposed criteria for dissociating the neural correlates of different classes of retrieval process. We conclude that few studies have used designs that permit these different kinds of process to be independently identified, and that presently there is little evidence to indicate which kinds of processing can be fractionated in terms of their neural correlates.