Here we describe a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of humans engaged in memory search during a free recall task. Patterns of cortical activity associated with the study of three categories of pictures (faces, locations, and objects) were identified by a pattern-classification algorithm. The algorithm was used to track the reappearance of these activity patterns during the recall period. The reappearance of a given category's activity pattern correlates with verbal recalls made from that category and precedes the recall event by several seconds. This result is consistent with the hypothesis that category-specific activity is cueing the memory system to retrieve studied items.
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