The Neuroscience Behind Visual Experiences & Memory Retrieval

A question regarding memory is whether brain activation in several regions identifies the memory processes of declarative memory regarding to both encoding of memory & retrieval. The use of functional neuroimaging plays an important role in measuring activation in different stages of memory (the process of encoding the current experience into becoming a memory & the storage of memory) to the individual’s experience. Encoded memory that had been processed successfully will be later remembered versus memory that had not been processed successfully (easily forgotten).

Brewer, Zhao, Desmond, & Gary H (1998) article discusses how a specific visual experience is remembered based on neural activity. The introduction to this study briefly discusses a specific region in the brain that is associated with declarative (also known as explicit) memory called the Medial temporal lobe. Declarative memory refers to memories that can be consciously retrieved such as facts. Another region contributing to the memory system is the parahippocampal cortex as well as the right frontal cortex.

For this study 6 participants viewed colored images with indoor & outdoor scenery judging whether the picture was either indoor or outdoor. 30 minutes after they were done they were given an unexpected memory test of the pictures they previously viewed. The memory test consisted of 96 images including additional new images & the participants had to tell whether they have seen the picture or not. 3 different outcomes of memory were reported where the individual have a). Seen the picture (being well remembered) b). The image looked familiar (not well remembered) or c). Pictures weren’t recalled (forgotten).

The results for this study reported that there was a greater activation in the parahippocampal region (associated with long term memory) for remembered pictures then those pictures that were familiar. Activation in the right frontal region proposes memory processes associated with the visuospatial matter of the scenic image so the interaction between those two regions format a long term memory & predicts whether memory will be remembered or forgotten.

Lateralization of brain functioning plays an important role in terms of mental processes that are specialized in memory – we see a significant role in the left laterized region of the brain for both retrieval & working memory. An important note to keep in mind is that the left hemisphere is dominant in language for processing auditory & comprehension of language. Memory involves the temporary storage and manipulation of information & a major component for the manipulation of information is language.


James B. Brewer,* Zuo Zhao, John E. Desmond, Gary H (1998). Making Memories: Brain Activity that Predicts How Well Visual Experience Will Be Remembered


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