Neural evidence for advantaged representation of first items in memory

Gilad Poker, Noga Oren, Vered Bezalel, Donna Abecasis, Talma Hendler, Itzhak Fried, Anthony D. Wagner, Irit Shapira-Lichter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual areas activated during perception can retain specific information held in memory without the presence of physical stimuli via distributed activity patterns. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the delay-period representation of information in visual areas is modulated by factors such as memory load and task demands, raising the possibility of serial position as another potential modulator. Specifically, enhanced representation of first items during the post-encoding delay period may serve as a mechanism underlying the well-established but not well-understood primacy effect – the mnemonic advantage of first items. To test this hypothesis, 13 males and 16 females performed a human fMRI task, wherein each trial consisted of the sequential encoding of two stimuli (a famous face and landscape, order counterbalanced), followed by a distracting task, a delay period, and then a cued recall of one of the items. Participants exhibited the expected behavioral primacy effect, manifested as faster recall of the first items. In order to elucidate the still debated neural underpinnings of this effect, using multivariate decoding, a classifier was trained on data collected during encoding to differentiate stimulus categories (i.e., faces vs. landscapes) and tested on data collected during the post-encoding period. Greater reactivation of first versus second items was observed in the ventral occipito-temporal cortex during the entire post-encoding period but not during encoding. Moreover, trial-level analyses revealed that the degree of first-item neural advantage during the post-encoding delay predicted the behavioral primacy effect. These findings highlight the role of item reinstatement in ventral occipito-temporal cortex in the primacy effect and are discussed in the context of the uniqueness of the very first item and event boundaries, illuminating putative neural mechanisms underlying the effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120239
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2023


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