Relationship between hippocampal volume and memory ability in healthy individuals across the lifespan: review and meta-analysis

Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(10):1394-413. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2004.04.006.


Poor memory ability and small hippocampal volume measurements in magnetic resonance images co-occur in neurological patients. Numerous studies have examined the relationship between memory performance and hippocampal volumes in participants without neurological or psychiatric disorders, with widely varying results. Three hypotheses about volume-memory relationships in the normal human brain are discussed: "bigger is always better", a neuropsychological view that volume decreases due to normal aging are accompanied by memory decline, and a developmental perspective that regressive events in development may result in negative correlations between hippocampal volume and memory ability. Meta-analysis of results from 33 studies led to little support for the bigger-is-better hypothesis. A negative relationship between hippocampal volume and memory (smaller is better) was significant for studies with children, adolescents, and young adults. For studies with older adults, the most striking observation was extreme variability: the evidence for a positive relationship between hippocampal size and episodic memory ability in older adults was surprisingly weak. Some of the variability in results from older adults was associated with statistical methods of normalizing for age and head size, which are discussed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Theory
  • Reference Values
  • Statistics as Topic