Entrainment enhances theta oscillations and improves episodic memory.


Neural oscillations in the theta band have been linked to episodic memory, but it is unclear whether activity patterns that give rise to theta play a causal role in episodic retrieval. Here, we used rhythmic auditory and visual stimulation to entrain neural oscillations to assess whether theta activity contributes to successful memory retrieval. In two separate experiments, human subjects studied words and were subsequently tested on memory for the words ('item recognition') and the context in which each had been previously studied ('source memory'). Between study and test, subjects in the entrainment groups were exposed to audiovisual stimuli designed to enhance activity at 5.5 Hz, whereas subjects in the control groups were exposed to white noise (Expt. 1) or 14 Hz entrainment (Expt. 2). Theta entrainment selectively increased source memory performance in both studies. Electroencephalography (EEG) data in Expt. 2 revealed that theta entrainment resulted in band-specific enhancement of theta power during the entrainment period and during post-entrainment memory retrieval. These results demonstrate a direct link between theta activity and episodic memory retrieval. Targeted manipulation of theta activity could be a promising new approach to enhance theta activity and memory performance in healthy individuals and in patients with memory disorders.