Hippocampal activity predicts contextual misattribution of false memories

Noa Herz, Bernard R. Bukala, James E. Kragel, Michael J. Kahana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Failure of contextual retrieval can lead to false recall, wherein people retrieve an item or experience that occurred in a different context or did not occur at all. Whereas the hippocampus is thought to play a crucial role in memory retrieval, we lack understanding of how the hippocampus supports retrieval of items related to a target context while disregarding related but irrelevant information. Using direct electrical recordings from the human hippocampus, we investigate the neural process underlying contextual misattribution of false memories. In two large datasets, we characterize key physiological differences between correct and false recalls that emerge immediately prior to vocalization. By differentiating between false recalls that share high or low contextual similarity with the target context, we show that low-frequency activity (6 to 18 Hz) in the hippocampus tracks similarity between the current and retrieved context. Applying multivariate decoding methods, we were able to reliably predict the contextual source of the to-be-recalled item. Our findings elucidate one of the hallmark features of episodic memory: our ability to distinguish between memories that were formed on different occasions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2305292120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - 3 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

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  • context
  • false memory
  • free-recall
  • hippocampus


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