Brain potentials associated with recollective processing of spoken words

Mem Cognit. 2000 Apr;28(3):321-30. doi: 10.3758/bf03198547.


The neurocognitive foundations of recollection can be explored by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) from the human brain. In the present study, we monitored brain activity while participants heard a series of words, first in a study phase and again, 1-2 min later, in a test phase, when both priming and recognition were measured. Level of processing at study was manipulated within-subjects via instructions either to visualize the referent of each word (the image task) or to detect the presence of target letters (the letter task). Priming of lexical decision response time was observed but did not differ across study task, whereas recognition was better for image- than for letter-task words. Brain potentials recorded at test revealed a task effect, wherein ERPs were more positive for image- than for letter-task words approximately 600-900 msec after word onset. The task effect was restricted to posterior scalp locations and was interpreted as an indication of visual imagery triggered by spoken words. Given that similar potentials were also elicited at study, we speculate that accurate recognition of words from the image task involved the recapitulation of the visual imagery that was initially engaged during the study phase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Word Association Tests