Event-related potential studies of associative recognition and recall: Electrophysiological evidence for context dependent retrieval processes

D. I. Donaldson*, M. D. Rugg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


To investigate the neural correlates of episodic recollection the ERP correlates of memory for new associations (recently studied novel word pairs) were investigated using two tasks, associative recognition and associative recall. For the recognition task subjects discriminated old from new word pairs and, for pairs judged old, reported whether the pairs were intact or recombined (compared to at study). For the recall task, subjects discriminated old from new words and, for each word judged old, reported its study associate. ERPs were recorded at test from 25 scalp electrodes, with a 1944-ms recording epoch. In Experiment 1, the tasks were randomly interleaved. Consistent with previous findings, relative to the ERPs for correctly classified new items, the ERP correlates of successful associative recognition consisted of a sustained left parietal positivity, and two frontal positivities, one early and bilateral, the other occurring later and showing a right-sided maximum. In contrast to previous findings, successful associative recall elicited similar effects to those found for recognition. Topographic analyses revealed that the distribution of these retrieval- related ERP effects were similar across the two tasks, suggesting that the recognition and recall of associative information gives rise to activity in overlapping, if not the same, neural populations. In Experiment 2 the tasks were blocked. In contrast to the findings of Experiment 1, successful associative recall elicited left parietal and late onsetting right frontal positivities, in the absence of the early bilateral frontal positivity. This finding suggests that frontally-distributed memory-related ERP effects are both neurally and functionally dissociable. Specifically, we argue that the functional significance of the early frontally distributed ERP effect cannot be accounted for by the 'post-retrieval processing' hypothesis that is taken to account for the late right frontal effect, suggesting that episodic recollection itself is neither neurally nor functionally homogenous.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 1999


  • Associative recall
  • Associative recognition
  • Context
  • ERPs
  • Frontal lobe
  • Recollection


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