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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

May 2011, Vol. 23, No. 5, Pages 1052-1064
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21524)
© 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Changes in Events Alter How People Remember Recent Information
Article PDF (435.26 KB)

Observers spontaneously segment larger activities into smaller events. For example, “washing a car” might be segmented into “scrubbing,” “rinsing,” and “drying” the car. This process, called event segmentation, separates “what is happening now” from “what just happened.” In this study, we show that event segmentation predicts activity in the hippocampus when people access recent information. Participants watched narrative film and occasionally attempted to retrieve from memory objects that recently appeared in the film. The delay between object presentation and test was always 5 sec. Critically, for some of the objects, the event changed during the delay whereas for others the event continued. Using fMRI, we examined whether retrieval-related brain activity differed when the event changed during the delay. Brain regions involved in remembering past experiences over long periods, including the hippocampus, were more active during retrieval when the event changed during the delay. Thus, the way an object encountered just 5 sec ago is retrieved from memory appears to depend in part on what happened in those 5 sec. These data strongly suggest that the segmentation of ongoing activity into events is a control process that regulates when memory for events is updated.