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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2008, Vol. 20, No. 8, Pages 1371-1380
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20094)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When a Thought Equals a Look: Refreshing Enhances Perceptual Memory
Article PDF (280.19 KB)

Cognition constantly involves retrieving and maintaining information that is not perceptually available in the current environment. Studies on visual imagery and working memory suggest that such high-level cognition might, in part, be mediated by the revival of perceptual representations in the inferior temporal cortex. Here, we provide new support for this hypothesis, showing that reflectively accessed information can have similar consequences for subsequent perception as actual perceptual input. Participants were presented with pairs of frames in which a scene could appear, and were required to make a category judgment on the second frame. In the critical condition, a scene was presented in the first frame, but the second frame was blank. Thus, it was necessary to refresh the scene from the first frame in order to make the category judgment. Scenes were then repeated in subsequent trials to measure the effect of refreshing on functional magnetic resonance imaging repetition attenuation—a neural index of memory—in a scene-selective region of the visual cortex. Surprisingly, the refreshed scenes produced equal attenuation as scenes that had been presented twice during encoding, and more attenuation than scenes that had been presented once during encoding, but that were not refreshed. Thus, the top-down revival of a percept had a similar effect on memory as actually seeing the stimulus again. These findings indicate that high-level cognition can activate stimulus-specific representations in the ventral visual cortex, and that such top-down activation, like that from sensory stimulation, produces memorial changes that affect perceptual processing during a later encounter with the stimulus.