Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Although functional neuroimaging studies have supported the distinction between explicit and implicit forms of memory, few have matched explicit and implicit tests closely, and most of these tested perceptual rather than conceptual implicit memory. We compared event-related fMRI responses during an intentional test, in which a group of participants used a cue word to recall its associate from a prior study phase, with those in an incidental test, in which a different group of participants used the same cue to produce the first associate that came to mind. Both semantic relative to phonemic processing at study, and emotional relative to neutral word pairs, increased target completions in the intentional test, but not in the incidental test, suggesting that behavioral performance in the incidental test was not contaminated by voluntary explicit retrieval. We isolated the neural correlates of successful retrieval by contrasting fMRI responses to studied versus unstudied cues for which the equivalent “target” associate was produced. By comparing the difference in this repetition-related contrast across the intentional and incidental tests, we could identify the correlates of voluntary explicit retrieval. This contrast revealed increased bilateral hippocampal responses in the intentional test, but decreased hippocampal responses in the incidental test. A similar pattern in the bilateral amygdale was further modulated by the emotionality of the word pairs, although surprisingly only in the incidental test. Parietal regions, however, showed increased repetition-related responses in both tests. These results suggest that the neural correlates of successful voluntary explicit memory differ in directionality, even if not in location, from the neural correlates of successful involuntary implicit (or explicit) memory, even when the incidental test taps conceptual processes.