Article | Published:

Shared memories reveal shared structure in neural activity across individuals

Nature Neuroscience volume 20, pages 115125 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Our lives revolve around sharing experiences and memories with others. When different people recount the same events, how similar are their underlying neural representations? Participants viewed a 50-min movie, then verbally described the events during functional MRI, producing unguided detailed descriptions lasting up to 40 min. As each person spoke, event-specific spatial patterns were reinstated in default-network, medial-temporal, and high-level visual areas. Individual event patterns were both highly discriminable from one another and similar among people, suggesting consistent spatial organization. In many high-order areas, patterns were more similar between people recalling the same event than between recall and perception, indicating systematic reshaping of percept into memory. These results reveal the existence of a common spatial organization for memories in high-level cortical areas, where encoded information is largely abstracted beyond sensory constraints, and that neural patterns during perception are altered systematically across people into shared memory representations for real-life events.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Aly, C. Baldassano, M. Arcaro and E. Simony for scientific discussions and comments on earlier versions of the manuscript; J. Edgren for help with transcription; M. Arcaro for advice regarding visual area topography; P. Johnson for improving the classification analysis; P.-H. Chen and H. Zhang for development of the SRM code; and other members of the Hasson and Norman laboratories for their comments and support. This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (R01-MH094480, U.H.; 2T32MH065214-11, J.C.).

Author information

Author notes

    • Janice Chen
    •  & Yuan Chang Leong

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

    • Janice Chen
    • , Kenneth A Norman
    •  & Uri Hasson
  2. Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

    • Janice Chen
    • , Kenneth A Norman
    •  & Uri Hasson
  3. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

    • Janice Chen
    •  & Christopher J Honey
  4. Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.

    • Yuan Chang Leong
  5. Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

    • Christopher J Honey
    •  & Chung H Yong

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Contributions

J.C., Y.C.L. and U.H. designed the experiment. J.C. and Y.C.L. collected and analyzed the data. J.C., U.H., Y.C.L., K.A.N. and C.J.H. designed analyses and wrote the manuscript. C.H.Y. produced the semantic labels.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Janice Chen.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4450