The aim of the present study was to compare the cerebral activation associated with encoding and retrieval in individual subjects with the average activation in the same group of subjects. Twelve volunteers performed two paradigms: 1) intentional encoding of words, and 2) recognition of learned words intermixed with new distracters. Echo-planar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of BOLD signal changes was used to compare cerebral activation between active and resting conditions. During encoding, activation of the left precentral gyrus related to the motor response was observed in some subjects. Averaged data showed increased activation of the left precentral gyrus, the supplementary motor area (SMA), the left inferior frontal gyrus and in the left temporo-occipital junction. During recognition, motor response-related activity was found in the precentral cortex and SMA in most subjects. Activation in other brain areas showed considerable interindividual variation. In the entire group, recognition showed activation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the precentral gyrus, the SMA, and the temporo-occipital junction. The total amount and the distribution of task-related cerebral activation varies considerably between individuals and might correspond to individual preferences of cognitive strategies. The investigation of these interindividual variations will be an exciting scientific challenge in the near future.