Laboratory-based and autobiographical retrieval tasks differ substantially in their neural substrates

Kathleen B. McDermott, Karl K. Szpunar, Shawn E. Christ

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


In designing experiments to investigate retrieval of event memory, researchers choose between utilizing laboratory-based methods (in which to-be-remembered materials are presented to participants) and autobiographical approaches (in which the to-be-remembered materials are events from the participant's pre-experimental life). In practice, most laboratory studies have utilized old/new recognition memory, and most autobiographical memory studies have used the Galton-Crovitz word cueing technique [Crovitz, H.F., & Schiffman, H. (1974). Frequency of episodic memories as a function of their age. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 4, 517-518]. What are the implications of these methodological choices for understanding the component processes and underlying neural substrates of memory retrieval? An Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analysis procedure [Turkeltaub, P., Eden, G., Jones, K., & Zeffiro, TA. (2002). Meta-analysis of the functional neuroanatomy of single-word reading: Method and validation. NeuroImage, 16, 765-780] was used to construct two whole-brain statistical maps: one showing brain regions that are consistently implicated when the task utilized is old/new recognition memory and one showing regions that tend to emerge when autobiographical event memory is queried. A comparison of the two maps shows very few regions of overlap. This basic methodological choice has a profound impact on the conclusions reached regarding human memory retrieval and its neural substrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2290-2298
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Activation likelihood estimation
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Event memory
  • fMRI
  • Free choice recognition
  • Laboratory memory
  • Memory
  • Meta-analysis
  • Neuroimaging
  • Old/new recognition
  • Recognition memory
  • Retrieval
  • Retrieval success


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