According to the distinctiveness heuristic, subjects rely more on detailed recollections (and less on familiarity) when memory is tested for pictures relative to words, leading to reduced false recognition. If so, then neural regions that have been implicated in effortful postretrieval monitoring (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) might be recruited less heavily when trying to remember pictures. We tested this prediction with the criterial recollection task. Subjects studied black words, paired with either the same word in red font or a corresponding colored picture. Red words were repeated at study to equate recognition hits for red words and pictures. During fMRI scanning, alternating red word memory tests and picture memory tests were given, using only white words as test stimuli (say “yes” only if you recollect a corresponding red word or picture, respectively). These tests were designed so that subjects had to rely on memory for the criterial information. Replicating prior behavioral work, we found enhanced rejection of lures on the picture test compared to the red word test, indicating that subjects had used a distinctiveness heuristic. Critically, dorsolateral prefrontal activity was reduced when rejecting familiar lures on the picture test, relative to the red word test. These findings indicate that reducing false recognition via the distinctiveness heuristic is not heavily dependent on frontally mediated postretrieval monitoring processes.

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