Amygdala activity at encoding corresponds with memory vividness and with memory for select episodic details

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Mar;49(4):663-73. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.017. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


It is well known that amygdala activity during encoding corresponds with subsequent memory for emotional information. It is less clear how amygdala activity relates to the subjective and objective qualities of a memory. In the present study, participants viewed emotional and neutral objects while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan. Participants then took a memory test, identifying which verbal labels named a studied object and indicating the vividness of their memory for that object. They then retrieved episodic details associated with each object's presentation, selecting which object exemplar had been studied and indicating in which screen quadrant, study list, and with which encoding question the exemplar had been studied. Parametric analysis of the encoding data allowed examination of the processes that tracked with increasing memory vividness or with an increase in the diversity of episodic details remembered. Dissociable networks tracked these two increases, and amygdala activity corresponded with the former but not the latter. Subsequent-memory analyses revealed that amygdala activity corresponded with memory for exemplar type but not for other episodic features. These results emphasize that amygdala activity does not ensure accurate encoding of all types of episodic detail, yet it does support encoding of some item-specific details and leads to the retention of a memory that will feel subjectively vivid. The types of episodic details tied to amygdala engagement may be those that are most important for creating a subjectively vivid memory.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reference Values
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Young Adult