The role of visual association cortex in associative memory formation across development

Maya L. Rosen, University of Washington
Margaret A. Sheridan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Kelly A. Sambrook, University of Washington
Matthew R. Peverill, University of Washington
Andrew N. Meltzoff, University of Washington
Katie A. McLaughlin, University of Washington


Associative learning underlies the formation of new episodic memories. Associative memory improves across development, and this age-related improvement is supported by the development of the hippocampus and pFC. Recent work, however, additionally suggests a role for visual association cortex in the formation of associative memories. This study investigated the role of category-preferential visual processing regions in associative memory across development using a paired associate learning task in a sample of 56 youths (age 6–19 years). Participants were asked to bind an emotional face with an object while undergoing fMRI scanning. Outside the scanner, participants completed a memory test. We first investigated age-related changes in neural recruitment and found linear age-related in- creases in activation in lateral occipital cortex and fusiform gyrus, which are involved in visual processing of objects and faces, respectively. Furthermore, greater activation in these visual processing regions was associated with better subsequent memory for pairs over and above the effect of age and of hippocampal and pFC activation on performance. Recruitment of these visual processing regions mediated the association between age and memory performance, over and above the effects of hippocampal activation. Taken together, these findings extend the existing literature to suggest that greater recruitment of category-preferential visual processing regions during encoding of associative memories is a neural mechanism explaining improved memory across development.