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Tracking the relation between gist and item memory over the course of long-term memory consolidation

  1. Tima Zeng  Is a corresponding author
  2. Alexa Tompary
  3. Anna C Schapiro
  4. Sharon Thompson-Schill
  1. University of Pennsylvania, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e65588 doi: 10.7554/eLife.65588


Our experiences in the world support memories not only of specific episodes but also of the generalities (the ‘gist’) across related experiences. It remains unclear how these two types of memories evolve and influence one another over time. In two experiments, 173 human participants encoded spatial locations from a distribution and reported both item memory (specific locations) and gist memory (center for the locations) across one to two months. Experiment 1 demonstrated that after one month, gist memory was preserved relative to item memory, despite a persistent positive correlation between them. Critically, item memories were biased towards the gist over time. Experiment 2 showed that a spatial outlier item changed this relationship and that the extraction of gist is sensitive to the regularities of items. Our results suggest that the gist starts to guide item memories over longer durations as their relative strengths change.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files.

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Tima Zeng

    Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-3805-4701
  2. Alexa Tompary

    Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  3. Anna C Schapiro

    Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States
    Competing interests
    Anna C Schapiro, Reviewing editor, eLife.
  4. Sharon Thompson-Schill

    Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.


National Institute of Health (Linguistic and NonLinguistic Functions of Frontal Cortex,R01 DC009209)

  • Sharon Thompson-Schill

National Institute of Health (5R01DC009209-14)

  • Sharon Thompson-Schill

National Institute of Health (5R01DC015359-05)

  • Sharon Thompson-Schill

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: That informed consent, and consent to publish, was obtained. The specific ethical approval obtained from University of Pennsylvania IRB (IRB #705915, Linguistic and Nonlinguistic Functions of Frontal Cortex). The guidelines were followed. The above information was described in the Materials and Methods.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Muireann Irish, University of Sydney, Australia

Publication history

  1. Received: December 9, 2020
  2. Preprint posted: January 7, 2021 (view preprint)
  3. Accepted: July 8, 2021
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: July 14, 2021 (version 1)
  5. Accepted Manuscript updated: July 16, 2021 (version 2)
  6. Version of Record published: August 2, 2021 (version 3)


© 2021, Zeng et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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