Slow, DC-like event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from the scalp of 30 healthy young adults to test the hypothesis that distinct cortical areas are activated when different types of information are retrieved from long-term memory. Three groups of 10 subjects each were first trained with associations between either pictures and spatial positions (spatial condition), pictures and color patches (color condition), or nouns and nouns (verbal condition). All three experimental conditions were completely analogous with respect to the established associative structure, the learning procedure, the performance criterion, and the retrieval test that followed 1 day after learning. Slow event-related brain potentials being recorded during retrieval had a significantly distinct topography. The maximum of a DC-like negative wave was found in the verbal condition over the left frontal, in the spatial condition over the parietal, and in the color condition over the right occipital to temporal cortex. These results are consistent with the idea that memory representations are either “down-loaded” into or directly reactivated within those cortical processing modules in which the same material was handled during perception. Response times, on the other hand, revealed no difference between the three retrieval conditions. In each case RT increased monotonically, if more items had to be scanned. Thus, while the ERPs suggest the involvement of different cortical processors during memory search the response times suggest that a sequentially operating scanning mechanism applies to all of them.

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