The Precuneus and Hippocampus Contribute to Individual Differences in the Unfolding of Spatial Representations During Episodic Autobiographical Memory

Neuropsychologia. 2018 Feb;110:123-133. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.03.029. Epub 2017 Mar 30.


Spatial information is a central aspect of episodic autobiographical memory (EAM). Space-based theories of memory, including cognitive map and scene construction models, posit that spatial reinstatement is a required process during early event recall. Spatial information can be represented from both allocentric (third-person) and egocentric (first-person) perspectives during EAM, with egocentric perspectives being important for mental imagery and supported by the precuneus. Individuals differ in their tendency to rely on allocentric or egocentric information, and in general, the subjective experience of remembering in EAM differs greatly across individuals. Here we examined individual differences in spatial aspects of EAM, how such differences influence the vividness and temporal order of recollection, and their anatomical correlates. We cued healthy young participants (n =63) with personally familiar locations and non-locations. We examined how cue type affects (i) retrieval dynamics and (ii) phenomenological aspects of remembering, and related behavioural performance to regional brain volumes (n =42). Participants tended to spontaneously recall spatial information early during recollection, even in the absence of spatial cues, and individuals with a stronger tendency to recall space first also displayed faster reaction times. Across participants, place-cued memories were re-experienced more vividly and were richer in detail than those cued by objects, but not more than those cued by familiar persons. Volumetric differences were associated with behavioural performance such that egocentric remembering was positively associated with precuneus volume. Hippocampal CA2/CA3 volumes were associated with the tendency to recall place-cued memories less effortfully. Consistent with scene construction theories, this study suggests that spatial information is reinstated early and contributes to the efficiency and phenomenology of EAM. However, early recall of spatial information is not universal and other routes to recall exist, challenging some aspects of these models. Variability among participants highlights the importance of an individual differences approach to studying EAM.

Keywords: Episodic autobiographical memory; Hippocampus; Individual differences; Precuneus; Scene construction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Organ Size
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging*
  • Reaction Time
  • Spatial Memory*
  • Young Adult