Siestrup & Schubotz (2023)

Siestrup, S., & Schubotz, R. I. (2023): Minor Changes Change Memories: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Behavioral Reflections of Episodic Prediction Errors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Episodic memories can be modified, a process that is potentially driven by mnemonic prediction errors. In the present study, we used modified cues to induce prediction errors of different episodic relevance. Participants encoded episodes in the form of short toy stories and then returned for an fMRI session on the subsequent day. Here, participants were presented either original episodes or slightly modified versions thereof. Modifications consisted of replacing a single object within the episode and either challenged the gist of an episode (gist modifications) or left it intact (surface modifications). On the next day, participants completed a post-fMRI memory test that probed memories for originally encoded episodes. Both types of modifications triggered brain activation in regions we previously found to be involved in the processing of content-based mnemonic prediction errors (i.e., the exchange of an object). Specifically, these were ventrolateral pFC, intraparietal cortex, and lateral occipitotemporal cortex. In addition, gist modifications triggered pronounced brain responses, whereas those for surface modification were only significant in the right inferior frontal sulcus. Processing of gist modifications also involved the posterior temporal cortex and the precuneus. Interestingly, our findings confirmed the posterior hippocampal role of detail processing in episodic memory, as evidenced by increased posterior hippocampal activity for surface modifications compared with gist modifications. In the post-fMRI memory test, previous experience with surface modified, but not gist-modified episodes, increased erroneous acceptance of the same modified versions as originally encoded. Whereas surface-level prediction errors might increase uncertainty and facilitate confusion of alternative episode representations, gist-level prediction errors seem to trigger the clear distinction of independent episodes.

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