Aging and the encoding of changes in events: The role of neural activity pattern reinstatement

David Stawarczyk, Christopher N. Wahlheim, Joset A. Etzel, Abraham Z. Snyder, Jeffrey M. Zacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


When encountering unexpected event changes, memories of relevant past experiences must be updated to form new representations. Current models of memory updating propose that people must first generate memory-based predictions to detect and register that features of the environment have changed, then encode the new event features and integrate them with relevant memories of past experiences to form configural memory representations. Each of these steps may be impaired in older adults. Using functional MRI, we investigated these mechanisms in healthy young and older adults. In the scanner, participants first watched a movie depicting everyday activities in a day of an actor's life. They next watched a second nearly identical movie in which some scenes ended differently. Crucially, before watching the last part of each activity, the second movie stopped, and participants were asked to mentally replay how the activity previously ended. Three days later, participants were asked to recall the activities. Neural activity pattern reinstatement in medial temporal lobe (MTL) during the replay phase of the second movie was associated with detecting changes and with better memory for the original activity features. Reinstatements in posterior medial cortex (PMC) additionally predicted better memory for changed features. Compared to young adults, older adults showed a reduced ability to detect and remember changes and weaker associations between reinstatement and memory performance. These findings suggest that PMC and MTL contribute to change processing by reinstating previous event features, and that older adults are less able to use reinstatement to update memory for changed features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29346-29353
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 24 2020


  • Change comprehension
  • Cognitive aging
  • Episodic memory
  • Event cognition
  • Representational similarity analysis


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