Forgetting across a hierarchy of episodic representations

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2021 Apr;67:50-57. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2020.08.004. Epub 2020 Sep 1.


Rich episodic experiences are represented in a hierarchical manner across a diverse network of brain regions, and as such, the way in which episodes are forgotten is likely to be similarly diverse. Using novel experimental approaches and statistical modelling, recent research has suggested that item-based representations, such as ones related to the colour and shape of an object, fragment over time, whereas higher-order event-based representations may be forgotten in a more 'holistic' uniform manner. We propose a framework that reconciles these findings, where complex episodes are represented in a hierarchical manner, from individual items, to small-scale events, to large-scale episodic narratives. Each level in the hierarchy is represented in distinct brain regions, from the perirhinal cortex, to posterior hippocampus, to anterior hippocampus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Critically, forgetting may be underpinned by different mechanisms at each level in the hierarchy, leading to different patterns of behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Mapping
  • Hippocampus
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Prefrontal Cortex*