Briefly cuing memories leads to suppression of their neural representations

Jordan Poppenk, Kenneth A. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Previous studies have linked partial memory activation with impaired subsequent memory retrieval (e.g., Detre et al., 2013) but have not provided an account of this phenomenon at the level of memory representations: How does partial activation change the neural pattern subsequently elicited when the memory is cued? To address this question, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment in which participants studied word-scene paired associates. Later, we weakly reactivated some memories by briefly presenting the cue word during a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task; other memories were more strongly reactivated or not reactivated at all. We tested participants' memory for the paired associates before and after RSVP. Cues that were briefly presented during RSVP triggered reduced levels of scene activity on the post-RSVP memory test, relative to the other conditions. We used pattern similarity analysis to assess how representations changed as a function of the RSVP manipulation. For briefly cued pairs, we found that neural patterns elicited by the same cue on the pre- and post-RSVP tests (preA-postA; preB-postB) were less similar than neural patterns elicited by different cues (preA-postB; preB-postA). These similarity reductions were predicted by neural measures of memory activation during RSVP. Through simulation, we show that our pattern similarity results are consistent with a model in which partial memory activation triggers selective weakening of the strongest parts of the memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8010-8020
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number23
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Human memory
  • Memory retrieval
  • Memory weakening
  • Multivoxel pattern analysis
  • Nonmonotonic plasticity
  • fMRI

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