Perceptual and Semantic Representations at Encoding Contribute to True and False Recognition of Objects

Loris Naspi, Paul Hoffman, Barry Devereux, Alexa Morcom

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When encoding new episodic memories, visual and semantic processing is proposed to make distinct contributions to accurate memory and memory distortions. Here, we used fMRI and preregistered representational similarity analysis to uncover the representations that predict true and false recognition of unfamiliar objects. Two semantic models captured coarse-grained taxonomic categories and specific object features, respectively, while two perceptual models embodied low-level visual properties. Twenty-eight female and male participants encoded images of objects during fMRI scanning, and later had to discriminate studied objects from similar lures and novel objects in a recognition memory test. Both perceptual and semantic models predicted true memory. When studied objects were later identified correctly, neural patterns corresponded to low-level visual representations of these object images in the early visual cortex, lingual, and fusiform gyri. In a similar fashion, alignment of neural patterns with fine-grained semantic feature representations in the fusiform gyrus also predicted true recognition. However, emphasis on coarser taxonomic representations predicted forgetting more anteriorly in the anterior ventral temporal cortex, left inferior frontal gyrus and, in an exploratory analysis, left perirhinal cortex. In contrast, false recognition of similar lure objects was associated with weaker visual analysis posteriorly in early visual and left occipitotemporal cortex. The results implicate multiple perceptual and semantic representations in successful memory encoding and suggest that fine-grained semantic as well as visual analysis contributes to accurate later recognition, while processing visual image detail is critical for avoiding false recognition errors.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT People are able to store detailed memories of many similar objects. We offer new insights into the encoding of these specific memories by combining fMRI with explicit models of how image properties and object knowledge are represented in the brain. When people processed fine-grained visual properties in occipital and posterior temporal cortex, they were more likely to recognize the objects later and less likely to falsely recognize similar objects. In contrast, while object-specific feature representations in fusiform gyrus predicted accurate memory, coarse-grained categorical representations in frontal and temporal regions predicted forgetting. The data provide the first direct tests of theoretical assumptions about encoding true and false memories, suggesting that semantic representations contribute to specific memories as well as errors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8375-8389
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number40
Early online date19 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 06 Oct 2021

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