Memory & Cognition

, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 1483-1501

First online:

Color and context: An ERP study on intrinsic and extrinsic feature binding in episodic memory

  • Ullrich K. H. EckerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Saarland University Email author 
  • , Hubert D. ZimmerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Saarland UniversityCentre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters Email author 
  • , Christian Groh-BordinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Saarland University


Episodic memory for intrinsic item and extrinsic context information is postulated to rely on two distinct types of representation: object and episodic tokens. These provide the basis for familiarity and recollection, respectively. Electrophysiological indices of these processes (ERPold-new effects) were used together with behavioral data to test these assumptions. We manipulated an intrinsic object feature (color; Experiment 1) and a contextual feature (background; Experiments 1 and 2). In an inclusion task (Experiment 1), the study—test manipulation of color affected object recognition performance and modulated ERPold—new effects associated with both familiarity and recollection. In contrast, a contextual manipulation had no effect, although both intrinsic and extrinsic information was available in a direct feature (source memory) test. When made task relevant (exclusion task; Experiment 2), however, context affected the ERP recollection effect, while still leaving the ERP familiarity effect uninfluenced. We conclude that intrinsic features bound in object tokens are involuntarily processed during object recognition, thus influencing familiarity, whereas context features bound in episodic tokens are voluntarily accessed, exclusively influencing recollection. Figures depicting all the electrodes analyzed are available in an online supplement at