Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous functional neuroimaging studies of temporal-order memory have investigated memory for laboratory stimuli that are causally unrelated and poor in sensory detail. In contrast, the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigated temporal-order memory for autobiographical events that were causally interconnected and rich in sensory detail. Participants took photographs at many campus locations over a period of several hours, and the following day they were scanned while making temporal-order judgments to pairs of photographs from different locations. By manipulating the temporal lag between the two locations in each trial, we compared the neural correlates associated with reconstruction processes, which we hypothesized depended on recollection and contribute mainly to short lags, and distance processes, which we hypothesized to depend on familiarity and contribute mainly to longer lags. Consistent with our hypotheses, parametric fMRI analyses linked shorter lags to activations in regions previously associated with recollection (left prefrontal, parahippocampal, precuneus, and visual cortices), and longer lags with regions previously associated with familiarity (right prefrontal cortex). The hemispheric asymmetry in prefrontal cortex activity fits very well with evidence and theories regarding the contributions of the left versus right prefrontal cortex to memory (recollection vs. familiarity processes) and cognition (systematic vs. heuristic processes). In sum, using a novel photo-paradigm, this study provided the first evidence regarding the neural correlates of temporal-order for autobiographical events.