The posterior parietal paradox: Why do functional magnetic resonance imaging and lesion studies on episodic memory produce conflicting results?

J Neuropsychol. 2011 Mar;5(Pt 1):15-38. doi: 10.1348/174866410X504059.


Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies addressing healthy subjects point towards posterior parietal cortex (PPC) involvement in episodic memory tasks. This is noteworthy, since neuropsychological studies usually do not connect parietal lesions to episodic memory impairments. Therefore an inventory of the possible factors behind this apparent paradox is warranted. This review compared fMRI studies which demonstrated PPC activity in episodic memory tasks, with findings with studies of patients with PPC lesions. A systematic evaluation of possible explanations for the posterior parietal paradox indicates that PPC activation in fMRI studies does not appear to be attributable to confounding cognitive/psychomotor processes, such as button pressing or stimulus processing. What may be of more importance is the extent to which an episodic memory task loads on three closely related cognitive processes: effort and attention, self-related activity, and scene and image construction. We discuss to what extent these cognitive processes can account for the paradox between lesion and fMRI results. They are strongly intertwined with the episodic memory and may critically determine in how far the PPC plays a role in a given memory task. Future patient studies might profit from specifically taking these cognitive factors into consideration in the task design.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Parietal Lobe / blood supply*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data


  • Oxygen