Memory & Cognition

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 923-938

First online:

Brain potentials of recollection and familiarity


It is widely hypothesized that separate recollection and familiarity processes contribute to recognition memory. The present research measured event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from 128 head locations to identify patterns of brain activity related to recollection and familiarity. In two experiments, subjects performed a recognition memory task requiring discrimination between previously studied words, similar words that changed plurality between study and test, and new words (following Hintzman & Curran, 1994). The FN400 ERP component (300–500 msec) varied with the familiarity of words (new>studied = similar). The parietal component (400–800 msec) was associated with the recollection of plurality (studied > similar = new). Differences in the timing and spatial topography of the FN400 and parietal effects support the view that familiarity and recollection arise from distinct neurocognitive processes.