Some surprising findings on the involvement of the parietal lobe in human memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2009 Feb;91(2):155-65. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2008.09.006. Epub 2008 Oct 31.


The posterior parietal lobe is known to play some role in a far-flung list of mental processes: linking vision to action (saccadic eye movements, reaching, grasping), attending to visual space, numerical calculation, and mental rotation. Here, we review findings from humans and monkeys that illuminate an untraditional function of this region: memory. Our review draws on neuroimaging findings that have repeatedly identified parietal lobe activations associated with short-term or working memory and episodic memory. We also discuss recent neuropsychological findings showing that individuals with parietal lobe damage exhibit both working memory and long-term memory deficits. These deficits are not ubiquitous; they are only evident under certain retrieval demands. Our review elaborates on these findings and evaluates various theories about the mechanistic role of the posterior parietal lobe in memory. The available data point towards the conclusion that the posterior parietal lobe plays an important role in memory retrieval irrespective of elapsed time. However, the available data do not support simple dichotomies such as recall versus recognition, working versus long-term memory. We conclude by formalizing several open questions that are intended to encourage future research in this rapidly developing area of memory research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / anatomy & histology