Human behavioral studies show that there is greater sensory/perceptual detail associated with true memories than false memories. We therefore hypothesized that true recognition of abstract shapes would elicit greater visual cortical activation than would false recognition. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants studied exemplar shapes and later made recognition memory decisions ("old" or "new") concerning studied exemplars (old shapes), nonstudied lures (related shapes) and new shapes. Within visual processing regions, direct contrasts between true recognition ("old" response to an old shape; old-hit) and false recognition ("old" response to a related shape; related-false alarm) revealed preferential true recognition-related activity in early visual processing regions (Brodmann area (BA)17, BA18). By comparison, both true and false recognition were associated with activity in early and late (BA19, BA37) visual processing regions, the late regions potentially supporting "old" responses, independent of accuracy. Further analyses suggested that the differential early visual processing activity reflected repetition priming, a type of implicit memory. Thus, the sensory signature that distinguishes true from false recognition may not be accessible to conscious awareness.
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