Value-based modulation of memory encoding involves strategic engagement of fronto-temporal semantic processing regions
A number of prior fMRI studies have focused on the ways in which the midbrain dopaminergic reward system coactivates with hippocampus to potentiate memory for valuable items. However, another means by which people could selectively remember more valuable to-be-remembered items is to be selective in their use of effective but effortful encoding strategies. To broadly examine the neural mechanisms of value on subsequent memory, we used fMRI to assess how differences in brain activity at encoding as a function of value relate to subsequent free recall for words. Each word was preceded by an arbitrarily assigned point value, and participants went through multiple study–test cycles with feedback on their point total at the end of each list, allowing for sculpting of cognitive strategies. We examined the correlation between value-related modulation of brain activity and participants’ selectivity index, which measures how close participants were to their optimal point total, given the number of items recalled. Greater selectivity scores were associated with greater differences in the activation of semantic processing regions, including left inferior frontal gyrus and left posterior lateral temporal cortex, during the encoding of high-value words relative to low-value words. Although we also observed value-related modulation within midbrain and ventral striatal reward regions, our fronto-temporal findings suggest that strategic engagement of deep semantic processing may be an important mechanism for selectively encoding valuable items.