Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Remembering delayed intentions can be highly demanding. Accuracy in laboratory paradigms assessing prospective memory (PM) is typically well below ceiling, and failure to remember intended behaviors after a delay is a common occurrence in everyday life. However, relatively little is known of the potential differences in brain activity that distinguish successful versus unsuccessful PM. In this fMRI study, participants repeatedly encoded, stored, and then had the opportunity to retrieve intended behaviors while engaged in a distracting ongoing task. This yielded a success rate of approximately two thirds. Overall levels of brain activity distinguished successful versus unsuccessful trials at all three stages (encoding, storage, and retrieval), suggesting multiple neural determinants of PM success. In addition, the voxelwise similarity between patterns of brain activity at encoding and retrieval was greater for successful than unsuccessful trials. This was true even in posterior cingulate, which showed opposite patterns of signal change between encoding and retrieval. Thus, successful realization of delayed intentions may be associated with reinstatement of encoding context at the time of retrieval.