Rapid memory reactivation revealed by oscillatory entrainment

Curr Biol. 2012 Aug 21;22(16):1482-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.05.054. Epub 2012 Jul 12.


Episodic memory refers to humans' unique ability to mentally reconstruct past events. Neurocomputational models predict that remembering entails the reinstatement of brain activity that was present when an event was initially experienced [1-5], a claim that has recently gained support from functional imaging work in humans [6-14]. The nature of this reactivation, however, is still unclear. Cognitive models claim that retrieval is set off by an early reactivation of stored memory representations ("ecphory") [15-17]. However, reinstatement as found in imaging studies might also reflect postretrieval processes that operate on the products of retrieval and are thus a consequence rather than a precondition of remembering. Here, we used frequency entrainment as a novel method of tagging memories in the human electroencephalogram (EEG). Participants studied words presented on flickering backgrounds, entraining a steady-state brain response at either 6 or 10 Hz. We found that these frequency signatures rapidly reemerged during a later memory test when participants successfully recognized a word. An additional behavioral experiment suggested that this reactivation occurs in the absence of conscious memory for the frequencies entrained during study. The findings provide empirical evidence for the role of rapid, likely unconscious memory reactivation during retrieval.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Young Adult