Pattern completion in multielement event engrams

Curr Biol. 2014 May 5;24(9):988-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.012. Epub 2014 Apr 17.


Personally experienced events include multiple elements, such as locations, people, and objects. These events are thought to be stored in episodic memory as coherent representations [1] that allow the retrieval of all elements from a partial cue ("pattern completion" [2-6]). However, direct evidence for coherent multielement representations is lacking. Their presence would predict that retrieval of one element from an event should be dependent on retrieval of the other elements from that event. If we remember where we were, we should be more likely to remember who we met and what object they gave us. Here we provide evidence for this type of dependency in remembering three-element events. Dependency was seen when all three elements were encoded simultaneously, or when the three overlapping pairwise associations comprising an event were learned on separate trials. However, dependency was only seen in the separated encoding condition when all possible within-event associations were encoded. These results suggest that episodic memories are stored as coherent representations in which associations between all within-event elements allow retrieval via pattern completion. They also show that related experiences encountered at different times can be flexibly integrated into these coherent representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Association*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*