Growing evidence suggests that theta oscillations play a crucial role in episodic encoding. The present study evaluates whether changes in electroencephalographic theta source dynamics mediate the positive influence of semantic congruence on incidental associative learning. Here we show that memory for episodic associations (face–location) is more accurate when studied under semantically congruent contexts. However, only participants showing RT priming effect in a conceptual priming test (priming group) also gave faster responses when recollecting source information of semantically congruent faces as compared with semantically incongruent faces. This improved episodic retrieval was positively correlated with increases in theta power during the study phase mainly in the bilateral parahippocampal gyrus, left superior temporal gyrus, and left lateral posterior parietal lobe. Reconstructed signals from the estimated sources showed higher theta power for congruent than incongruent faces and also for the priming than the nonpriming group. These results are in agreement with the attention to memory model. Besides directing top–down attention to goal-relevant semantic information during encoding, the dorsal parietal lobe may also be involved in redirecting attention to bottom–up-driven memories thanks to connections between the medial-temporal and the left ventral parietal lobe. The latter function can either facilitate or interfere with encoding of face–location associations depending on whether they are preceded by semantically congruent or incongruent contexts, respectively, because only in the former condition retrieved representations related to the cue and the face are both coherent with the person identity and are both associated with the same location.

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