What Neuroimaging Studies Tell Us

 Neuroimaging (See the blog “How Can the Brain Be Imaged”) has also shed light on some of the “sins” of memory (See the blog”The Seven Sins of Memory”). With respect to blocking, PET scans have been done while people were trying to retrieve both proper names and common names. Activation of several regions within the left temporal lobe was observed when people were recalling proper names. When people recalled common names, the same regions in the temporal lobe were activated, but additional activation was observed further back in the temporal lobe. According to Schacter the the left temporal lobe provides a fragile link between the characteristics of an individual person and the label by which she or he is known to others.[1]

Source misattribution and memory conjunction errors can occur due to incorrect binding at the time of recall. The hippocampus plays an important role in binding processes that, when disrupted, can contribute to memory conjunction errors. The hippocampus seems to provide the glue that holds together parts of a face or word in memory. Brain imaging studies have shown that the hippocampus becomes especially active when people learn unrelated word pairs that place heavy demands on the binding process.

PET scans have also proved useful in identifying pathological cases of blocking. NN was an amnesiac who showed no overt signs of brain damage. His family provided instances of emotionally salient events that had occurred in NN’s past. When healthy people perform a similar task recalling emotionally salient events from their past, the scans reveal increased activity in parts of the right cerebral hemisphere, especially towards the back part of the frontal lobe and front parts of the temporal lobe. NN showed no activation in these regions, Instead, he showed activation of much smaller part of the frontal and temporal regions in the opposite, left, hemisphere.[2]


[1] Schacter, D. (2001). The Seven Sins of Memory, Wilmington, MA: Houghton Mifflin p. 71.

[2] Schacter, D. (2001)  op cit. p. 85.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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