Event Boundaries Trigger Rapid Memory Reinstatement of the Prior Events to Promote Their Representation in Long-Term Memory

Curr Biol. 2017 Nov 20;27(22):3499-3504.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.057. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


Although everyday experiences unfold continuously over time, shifts in context, or event boundaries, can influence how those events come to be represented in memory [1-4]. Specifically, mnemonic binding across sequential representations is more challenging at context shifts, such that successful temporal associations are more likely to be formed within than across contexts [1, 2, 5-9]. However, in order to preserve a subjective sense of continuity, it is important that the memory system bridge temporally adjacent events, even if they occur in seemingly distinct contexts. Here, we used pattern similarity analysis to scalp electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings during a sequential learning task [2, 3] in humans and showed that the detection of event boundaries triggered a rapid memory reinstatement of the just-encoded sequence episode. Memory reactivation was detected rapidly (∼200-800 ms from the onset of the event boundary) and was specific to context shifts that were preceded by an event sequence with episodic content. Memory reinstatement was not observed during the sequential encoding of events within an episode, indicating that memory reactivation was induced specifically upon context shifts. Finally, the degree of neural similarity between neural responses elicited during sequence encoding and at event boundaries correlated positively with participants' ability to later link across sequences of events, suggesting a critical role in binding temporally adjacent events in long-term memory. Current results shed light onto the neural mechanisms that promote episodic encoding not only for information within the event, but also, importantly, in the ability to link across events to create a memory representation of continuous experience.

Keywords: EEG; episodic memory; event segmentation; memory reactivation; pattern similarity; sequence memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult