Direct neural evidence for the contrastive roles of the complementary learning systems in adult acquisition of native vocabulary

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The Complementary Learning Systems (CLS) theory provides a powerful framework for considering the acquisition, consolidation and generalisation of new knowledge. We tested this proposed neural division of labour in adults through an investigation of the consolidation and long-term retention of newly-learned native vocabulary with post-learning functional neuroimaging. Newly-learned items were compared to two conditions: (i) previously known items to highlight the similarities and differences with established vocabulary; and (ii) unknown/untrained items to provide a control for non-specific perceptual and motor-speech output. Consistent with the CLS, retrieval of newly-learned items was supported by a combination of regions associated with episodic memory (including left hippocampus) and the language-semantic areas that support established vocabulary (left inferior frontal gyrus and left anterior temporal lobe). Furthermore, there was a shifting division of labour across these two networks in line with the items’ consolidation status; faster naming was associated with more activation of language-semantic areas and lesser activation of episodic memory regions. Hippocampal activity during naming predicted more than half the variation in naming retention six months later.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Early online date7 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2021