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Identifying the ERP correlate of a recognition memory search attempt.
Previous recognition memory studies have looked for differences in brain activity during recollection- and familiarity-based responding. Although an ERP component correlated with recollection success has been reported, no analogous component related to search initiation has been found. We argue that such a component has not been discovered because studies have compared trials in which participants have made a search attempt and failed (such as Know responses) with those in which the search attempt is successful (such as Remember responses). In the current study, we compared a task that required judgments of lifetime familiarity (differentiating famous from nonfamous names) with one that required judgments of episodic information (deciding whether a name was seen previously in the experiment). By comparing a task on which familiarity judgments were made with no search attempt to a second task in which a search attempt was likely to occur, we identified a component that may reflect the initiation of a memory search. This effect, maximal between 190 and 235 ms, is correlated with Old judgments in the episodic task. Previous ERP findings (e.g., FN400, parietal old/new effect) were also replicated in the present study.