Neural evidence of the strategic choice between working memory and episodic memory in prospective remembering

Neuropsychologia. 2016 Dec;93(Pt A):280-288. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.11.006. Epub 2016 Nov 12.


Theories of prospective memory (PM) posit that it can be subserved either by working memory (WM) or episodic memory (EM). Testing and refining these multiprocess theories of PM requires a way of tracking participants' reliance on WM versus EM. Here we use multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to derive a trial-by-trial measure of WM use in prospective memory. We manipulated strategy demands by varying the degree of proactive interference (which impairs EM) and the memory load required to perform the secondary task (which impairs WM). For the condition in which participants were pushed to rely more on WM, our MVPA measures showed 1) greater WM use and 2) a trial-by-trial correlation between WM use and PM behavior. Finally, we also showed that MVPA measures of WM use are not redundant with other behavioral measures: in the condition in which participants were pushed more to rely on WM, using neural and behavioral measures together led to better prediction of PM accuracy than either measure on its own.

Keywords: Episodic memory; MVPA; Prospective memory; Working memory; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult