Functional anatomy of temporal organisation and domain-specificity of episodic memory retrieval

Sze Chai Kwok, Tim Shallice, Emiliano Macaluso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Episodic memory provides information about the "when" of events as well as "what" and "where" they happened. Using functional imaging, we investigated the domain specificity of retrieval-related processes following encoding of complex, naturalistic events. Subjects watched a 42-min TV episode, and 24. h later, made discriminative choices of scenes from the clip during fMRI. Subjects were presented with two scenes and required to either choose the scene that happened earlier in the film (Temporal), or the scene with a correct spatial arrangement (Spatial), or the scene that had been shown (Object). We identified a retrieval network comprising the precuneus, lateral and dorsal parietal cortex, middle frontal and medial temporal areas. The precuneus and angular gyrus are associated with temporal retrieval, with precuneal activity correlating negatively with temporal distance between two happenings at encoding. A dorsal fronto-parietal network engages during spatial retrieval, while antero-medial temporal regions activate during object-related retrieval. We propose that access to episodic memory traces involves different processes depending on task requirements. These include memory-searching within an organised knowledge structure in the precuneus (Temporal task), online maintenance of spatial information in dorsal fronto-parietal cortices (Spatial task) and combining scene-related spatial and non-spatial information in the hippocampus (Object task). Our findings support the proposal of process-specific dissociations of retrieval.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2943-2955
Number of pages13
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Cinematographic material
  • FMRI
  • Hierarchical structure
  • Precuneus
  • What-where-when

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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