AUTHORS: Donna J. Bridge and Joel L. Voss
ABSTRACT: Memory stability and change are considered opposite outcomes. We tested the counterintuitive notion that both depend on one process: hippocampal binding of memory features to associatively novel information, or associative novelty binding (ANB). Building on the idea that dominant memory features, or “traces,” are most susceptible to modification, we hypothesized that ANB would selectively involve dominant traces. Therefore, memory stability versus change should depend on whether the currently dominant trace is old versus updated; in either case, novel information will be bound with it, causing either maintenance (when old) or change (when updated). People in our experiment studied objects at locations within scenes (contexts). During reactivation in a new context, subjects moved studied objects to new locations either via active location recall or by passively dragging objects to predetermined locations. After active reactivation, the new object location became dominant in memory, whereas after passive reactivation, the old object location maintained dominance. In both cases, hippocampal ANB bound the currently dominant object-location memory with a context with which it was not paired previously (i.e., associatively novel). Stability occurred in the passive condition when ANB united the dominant original location trace with an associatively novel newer context. Change occurred in the active condition when ANB united the dominant updated object location with an associatively novel and older context. Hippocampal ANB of the currently dominant trace with associatively novel contextual information thus provides a single mechanism to support memory stability and change, with shifts in trace dominance during reactivation dictating the outcome.