Recent interest has been drawn to the separate components of recognition memory, as studied by event-related potentials (ERPs). In ERPs, recollection is usually accompanied by a late, parietal positive deflection. An earlier, frontal component has been suggested to be a counterpart, accompanying recognition by familiarity. However, this component, the FN400, has alternatively been suggested to reflect a form of implicit memory, conceptual priming. The present study examined the ERP components of recognition memory using an episodic memory task with a stimulus material consisting of names, half of which were famous. Along a different dimension, the names varied in how rare or common they were. These dimensions, frequency and fame, exerted powerful effects on memory accuracy, and dissociated the two recognition processes, such that frequency gave rise to familiarity and fame fostered recollection, when the receiver operating characteristics data were analyzed with Yonelinas' dual-process signal detection model. The ERPs corresponded fully to the behavioral data because frequency affected the frontal component exclusively, and fame affected the parietal component exclusively. Moreover, a separate behavioral experiment showed that conceptual priming was sensitive to fame, but not to frequency. Our data therefore indicate that the FN400 varies jointly with familiarity, but independently of conceptual priming.
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