Memory retrieval is typically a goal-directed behavior, and as such, potentially influenced by reinforcement and motivation processes. Although striatal activation is often evident during memory retrieval, its functional significance remains unclear because typical memory paradigms do not control the motivational significance of memory decisions. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate striatal activation during recognition with and without performance-linked monetary incentives. During initial performance in the absence of incentives, dorsal striatal activation for "Old" memory conclusions nonetheless exceeded that for "New" conclusions regardless of the accuracy of these conclusions. In contrast, subsequent scans paired incentives with either "Old" or "New" conclusions and demonstrated greater activation for whichever judgment was potentially rewarded, both with and without performance feedback. The data demonstrate that striatal activation during recognition judgments does not signal monetary reward receipt, cognitive feedback, or successful episodic retrieval. Instead, it is heavily dependent upon satisfaction of the subjective goals of the observer.
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