Top-down and bottom-up attention to memory: a hypothesis (AtoM) on the role of the posterior parietal cortex in memory retrieval

Neuropsychologia. 2008;46(7):1828-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.03.022. Epub 2008 Apr 8.


Recent neuroimaging studies have implicated the posterior parietal cortex in episodic memory retrieval, but there is uncertainty about its specific role. Research in the attentional domain has shown that superior parietal lobe (SPL) regions along the intraparietal sulcus are implicated in the voluntary orienting of attention to relevant aspects of the environment, whereas inferior parietal lobe (IPL) regions at the temporo-parietal junction mediate the automatic allocation of attention to task-relevant information. Here we propose that the SPL and the IPL play conceptually similar roles in episodic memory retrieval. We hypothesize that the SPL allocates top-down attention to memory retrieval, whereas the IPL mediates the automatic, bottom-up attentional capture by retrieved memory contents. By reviewing the existing fMRI literature, we show that the posterior intraparietal sulcus of SPL is consistently active when the need for top-down assistance to memory retrieval is supposedly maximal, e.g., for memories retrieved with low vs. high confidence, for familiar vs. recollected memories, for recognition of high vs. low frequency words. On the other hand, the supramarginal gyrus of IPL is consistently active when the attentional capture by memory contents is supposedly maximal, i.e., for strong vs. weak memories, for vividly recollected vs. familiar memories, for memories retrieved with high vs. low confidence. We introduce a model of episodic memory retrieval that characterizes contributions of posterior parietal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cues
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology