Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 2, pp 573–583 | Cite as

Alterations in oscillatory cortical activity indicate changes in mnemonic processing during continuous item recognition

  • Sebastian GraetzEmail author
  • Jonathan Daume
  • Uwe Friese
  • Thomas Gruber
Research Article


The classification of repeating stimuli as either old or new is a general mechanism of everyday perception. However, the cortical mechanisms underlying this process are not fully understood. In general, mnemonic processes are thought to rely on changes in oscillatory brain activity across several frequencies as well as their interaction. Lower frequencies, mainly theta-band (3–7 Hz) and alpha-band (8–14 Hz) activity, are attributed to executive control and resource management, respectively; whereas recent studies revealed higher frequencies, e.g. gamma-band (> 25 Hz) activity, to reflect the activation of cortical object representations. Furthermore, low-frequency phase to high-frequency amplitude coupling (PAC) was recently found to coordinate the involved mnemonic networks. To further unravel the processes behind memorization of repeatedly presented stimuli, we applied a continuous item recognition task with up to five presentations per item (mean time between repetitions ~ 10 s) while recording high-density EEG. We examined spectral amplitude modulations as well as PAC. We observed theta amplitudes reaching a peak at second presentation, a reduction of alpha suppression after second presentation, decreased response time, as well as reduced theta–gamma PAC (3 to 7 to − 30 to 45 Hz) at frontal sites after third presentation. We conclude a shift from an explicit- to an implicit-like mnemonic processing, occurring around third presentation, with theta power to signify encoding of repetition-based episodic information and PAC as a neural correlate of the coordination of local neural networks.


EEG Working memory Oscillations Cross-frequency coupling 



This work was supported by grants from the German Research Foundation (GR2684/5-1). We thank Moritz Köster for helpful methodological discussions, and Simeon Platte, Sophia Sylvester and Marlene Wessels for assistance in data recording.


This work was supported by grants from the German Research Foundation (GR2684/5-1).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Osnabrück University and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was reviewed and approved by the local ethics committee of Osnabrück University.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Experimental Psychology I, Institute of PsychologyOsnabrück UniversityOsnabrückGermany
  2. 2.Department of Neurophysiology and PathophysiologyUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany

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