Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We addressed the hypothesis that perceptual priming and explicit memory have distinct neural correlates at encoding. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants studied visually presented words at deep versus shallow levels of processing (LOPs). The ERPs were sorted by whether or not participants later used studied words as completions to three-letter word stems in an intentional memory test, and by whether or not they indicated that these completions were remembered from the study list. Study trials from which words were later used and not remembered (primed trials) and study trials from which words were later used and remembered (remembered trials) were compared to study trials from which words were later not used (forgotten trials), in order to measure the ERP difference associated with later memory (DM effect). Primed trials involved an early (200–450 msec) centroparietal negative-going DM effect. Remembered trials involved a late (900–1200 msec) right frontal, positive-going DM effect regardless of LOP, as well as an earlier (600–800 msec) central, positive-going DM effect during shallow study processing only. All three DM effects differed topographically, and, in terms of their onset or duration, from the extended (600–1200 msec) fronto-central, positive-going shift for deep compared with shallow study processing. The results provide the first clear evidence that perceptual priming and explicit memory have distinct neural correlates at encoding, consistent with Tulving and Schacter's (1990) distinction between brain systems concerned with perceptual representation versus semantic and episodic memory. They also shed additional light on encoding processes associated with later explicit memory, by suggesting that brain processes influenced by LOP set the stage for other, at least partially separable, brain processes that are more directly related to encoding success.