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Our brains integrate information across sensory modalities to generate perceptual experiences and form memories. However, it is difficult to determine the conditions under which multisensory stimulation will benefit or hinder the retrieval of everyday experiences. We hypothesized that the determining factor is the reliability of information processing during stimulus presentation, which can be measured through intersubject correlation of stimulus-evoked activity. We therefore presented biographical auditory narratives and visual animations to 72 human subjects visually, auditorily, or combined, while neural activity was recorded using electroencephalography. Memory for the narrated information, contained in the auditory stream, was tested 3 weeks later. While the visual stimulus alone led to no meaningful retrieval, this related stimulus improved memory when it was combined with the story, even when it was temporally incongruent with the audio. Further, individuals with better subsequent memory elicited neural responses during encoding that were more correlated with their peers. Surprisingly, portions of this predictive synchronized activity were present regardless of the sensory modality of the stimulus. These data suggest that the strength of sensory and supramodal activity is predictive of memory performance after 3 weeks, and that neural synchrony may explain the mnemonic benefit of the functionally uninformative visual context observed for these real-world stimuli.


This article was originally published in eNeuro, available at DOI:

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