When you perceive or remember one thing, other related things come to mind. This competition has consequences for how these items are later perceived, attended, or remembered. Such behavioral consequences result from changes in how much the neural representations of the items overlap, especially in the hippocampus. These changes can reflect increased (integration) or decreased (differentiation) overlap; previous studies have posited that the amount of coactivation between competing representations in cortex determines which will occur: high coactivation leads to hippocampal integration, medium coactivation leads to differentiation, and low coactivation is inert. However, those studies used indirect proxies for coactivation, by manipulating stimulus similarity or task demands. Here we induce coactivation of competing memories in visual cortex more directly using closed-loop neurofeedback from real-time fMRI. While viewing one object, participants were rewarded for implicitly activating the representation of another object as strongly as possible. Across multiple real-time fMRI training sessions, they succeeded in using the neurofeedback to induce coactivation. Compared with untrained objects, this coactivation led to behavioral and neural integration: The trained objects became harder for participants to discriminate in a categorical perception task and harder to decode from patterns of fMRI activity in the hippocampus.
Keywords: Closed-loop neurofeedback; High-performance computing; Machine learning; Nonmonotonic plasticity; Psychophysics; Real-time fMRI.