The localization of brain functions using neuroimaging techniques is commonly dependent on statistical analyses of groups of subjects in order to identify sites of activation, particularly in studies of episodic memory. Exclusive reliance on group analysis may be to the detriment of understanding the true underlying cognitive nature of brain activations. In the present study, we found that the patterns of brain activity associated with episodic retrieval are very distinct for individual subjects from the patterns of brain activity at the group level. These differences go beyond the relatively small variations due to cyctoarchitectonic differences or spatial normalization. We quantify this individual variability by cross-correlating volumes of brain images. We demonstrate that individual patterns of brain activity are reliable over time despite their extensive variability. We suggest that varied but reliable individual patterns of significant brain activity may be indicative of different cognitive strategies used to produce a recognition response. We believe that individual analysis in conjunction with group analysis may be critical to fully understanding the relationship between retrieval processes and underlying brain regions.

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