Contemporary neurocognitive frameworks propose that conceptual and perceptual content of autobiographical memories—personal past experiences—are processed by dissociable neural systems. Other work has proposed a central role of the anterior hippocampus in initially constructing autobiographical memories, regardless of the content. Here, we report on an fMRI study that utilized a repeated retrieval paradigm to test these ideas. In a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, participants retrieved autobiographical memories at three timepoints. During the third retrieval, participants either shifted their focus to the conceptual content of the memory, the perceptual content of the memory, or retrieved the memory as they had done so on previous trials. We observed stronger anterior hippocampal activity for the first retrieval compared with later retrievals, regardless of whether there was a shift in content in those later trials. We also found evidence for separate cortical systems when constructing autobiographical memories with a focus on conceptual or perceptual content. Finally, we found that there was common engagement between later retrievals that required a shift toward conceptual content and the initial retrieval of a memory. This final finding was explored further with a behavioral experiment that provided evidence that focusing on conceptual content of a memory guides memory construction, whereas perceptual content adds precision to a memory. Together, these findings suggest there are distinct content-oriented cortical systems that work with the anterior hippocampus to construct representations of autobiographical memories.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.