A fundamental principle in memory research is that memory is a function of the similarity between encoding and retrieval operations. Consistent with this principle, many neurobiological models of declarative memory assume that memory traces are stored in cortical regions, and the hippocampus facilitates the reactivation of these traces during retrieval. The present investigation tested the novel prediction that encoding-retrieval similarity can be observed and related to memory at the level of individual items. Multivariate representational similarity analysis was applied to functional magnetic resonance imaging data collected during encoding and retrieval of emotional and neutral scenes. Memory success tracked fluctuations in encoding-retrieval similarity across frontal and posterior cortices. Importantly, memory effects in posterior regions reflected increased similarity between item-specific representations during successful recognition. Mediation analyses revealed that the hippocampus mediated the link between cortical similarity and memory success, providing crucial evidence for hippocampal-cortical interactions during retrieval. Finally, because emotional arousal is known to modulate both perceptual and memory processes, similarity effects were compared for emotional and neutral scenes. Emotional arousal was associated with enhanced similarity between encoding and retrieval patterns. These findings speak to the promise of pattern similarity measures for evaluating memory representations and hippocampal-cortical interactions.
Keywords: emotional memory; episodic memory; functional neuroimaging; multivariate pattern analysis.