Several past studies have shown that attention and perception can depend upon the phase of ongoing neural oscillations at stimulus onset. Here, we extend this idea to the memory domain. We tested the hypothesis that ongoing fluctuations in neural activity have an impact on memory encoding using a picture paired-associates task to gauge episodic memory performance. Experiment 1 capitalized on the principle of phase reset. We tested if subsequent memory performance fluctuates rhythmically, time-locked to a reset cue presented before the to-be-remembered pairs. We found indication that behavioral performance was periodically and selectively modulated at theta frequency (~4 Hz). In Experiment 2 we focused on prestimulus ongoing activity using scalp EEG recorded while participants performed the pair-associate task. We analyzed subsequent memory performance as a function of theta and alpha activity around the presentation of the to-be-remembered pairs. The results of the pre-registered analyses, using large electrode clusters and generic spectral ranges, returned null results of prestimulus phase-behavior correlation. However, we found that post-stimulus theta-power modulations in left frontal scalp predicted subsequent memory performance. This post-stimulus effect in theta power was used to guide a post-hoc prestimulus phase analysis, narrowed down to more precise scalp location and frequency. This analysis returned a correlation between prestimulus theta phase and subsequent memory. Altogether, these results suggest that the prestimulus theta activity at encoding has an impact on later memory performance.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience