The neural correlates of the encoding of associations between pairs of words, pairs of pictures, and word–picture pairs were compared. The aims were to determine, first, whether the neural correlates of associative encoding vary according to study material and, second, whether encoding of across- versus within-material item pairs is associated with dissociable patterns of hippocampal and perirhinal activity, as predicted by the “domain dichotomy” hypothesis of medial temporal lobe function. While undergoing fMRI scanning, subjects (n = 24) were presented with the three classes of study pairs, judging which of the denoted objects fit into the other. Outside of the scanner, subjects then undertook an associative recognition task, discriminating between intact study pairs, rearranged pairs comprising items that had been presented on different study trials, and unstudied item pairs. The neural correlates of successful associative encoding—subsequent associative memory effects—were operationalized as the difference in activity between study pairs correctly judged intact versus pairs incorrectly judged rearranged on the subsequent memory test. Pair type–independent subsequent memory effects were evident in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the hippocampus. Picture–picture pairs elicited material-selective effects in regions of fusiform cortex that were also activated to a greater extent on picture trials than on word trials, whereas word–word pairs elicited material-selective subsequent memory effects in left lateral temporal cortex. Contrary to the domain-dichotomy hypothesis, neither hippocampal nor perirhinal subsequent memory effects differed depending on whether they were elicited by within- versus across-material study pairs. It is proposed that the left IFG plays a domain-general role in associative encoding, that associative encoding can also be facilitated by enhanced processing in material-selective cortical regions, and that the hippocampus and perirhinal cortex contribute equally to the formation of inter-item associations, regardless of whether the items belong to the same or to different processing domains.

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