Semantic congruence accelerates the onset of the neural signals of successful memory encoding

Pau A. Packard*, Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, Nico Bunzeck, Berta Nicolás, Ruth de Diego-Balaguer, Lluís Fuentemilla

*Corresponding author for this work


As the stream of experience unfolds, our memory system rapidly transforms current inputs into long-lasting meaningful memories. A putative neural mechanism that strongly influences how input elements are transformed into meaningful memory codes relies on the ability to integrate them with existing structures of knowledge or schemas. However, it is not yet clear whether schema-related integration neural mechanisms occur during online encoding. In the current investigation, we examined the encoding-dependent nature of this phenomenon in humans. We showed that actively integrating words with congruent semantic information provided by a category cue enhances memory for words and increases false recall. The memory effect of such active integration with congruent information was robust, even with an interference task occurring right after each encoding word list. In addition, via electroencephalography, we show in 2 separate studies that the onset of the neural signals of successful encoding appeared early (~ 400 ms) during the encoding of congruent words. That the neural signals of successful encoding of congruent and incongruent information followed similarly ~ 200 ms later suggests that this earlier neural response contributed to memory formation. We propose that the encoding of events that are congruent with readily available contextual semantics can trigger an accelerated onset of the neural mechanisms, supporting the integration of semantic information with the event input. This faster onset would result in a long-lasting and meaningful memory trace for the event but, at the same time, make it difficult to distinguish it from plausible but never encoded events (i.e., related false memories).

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)291-301
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 11.01.2017

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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