Neural Pattern Similarity Across Concept Exemplars Predicts Memory After a Long Delay

Neuroimage. 2020 Jun 8;219:117030. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117030. Online ahead of print.


The irregularities of the world ensure that each interaction we have with a concept is unique. In order to generalize across these unique encounters to form a high-level representation of a concept, we must draw on similarities between exemplars to form new conceptual knowledge that is maintained over a long time. Two neural similarity measures - pattern robustness and encoding-retrieval similarity - are particularly important for predicting memory outcomes. In this study, we used fMRI to measure activity patterns while people encoded and retrieved novel pairings between unfamiliar (Dutch) words and visually presented animal species. We address two underexplored questions: 1) whether neural similarity measures can predict memory outcomes, despite perceptual variability between presentations of a concept and 2) if pattern similarity measures can predict subsequent memory over a long delay (i.e., one month). Our findings indicate that pattern robustness during encoding in brain regions that include parietal and medial temporal areas is an important predictor of subsequent memory. In addition, we found significant encoding-retrieval similarity in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex after a month's delay. These findings demonstrate that pattern similarity is an important predictor of memory for novel word-animal pairings even when the concept includes multiple exemplars. Importantly, we show that established predictive relationships between pattern similarity and subsequent memory do not require visually identical stimuli (i.e., are not simply due to low-level visual overlap between stimulus presentations) and are maintained over a month.

Keywords: Encoding; Episodic; Memory; Pattern similarity; Retrieval; Semantic.