Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Attention during Memory Retrieval Enhances Future Remembering

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Attention during Memory Retrieval Enhances Future Remembering

Article excerpt

Memory retrieval is a powerful learning event that influences whether an experience will be remembered in the future. Although retrieval can succeed in the presence of distraction, dividing attention during retrieval may reduce the power of remembering as an encoding event. In the present experiments, participants studied pictures of objects under full attention and then engaged in item recognition and source memory retrieval under full or divided attention. Two days later, a second recognition and source recollection test assessed the impact of attention during initial retrieval on long-term retention. On this latter test, performance was superior for items that had been tested initially under full versus divided attention. More importantly, even when items were correctly recognized on the first test, divided attention reduced the likelihood of subsequent recognition on the second test. The same held true for source recollection. Additionally, foils presented during the first test were also less likely to be later recognized if they had been encountered initially under divided attention. These findings demonstrate that attentive retrieval is critical for learning through remembering.

Few people would debate the necessity of attention for learning new information. Extensive research has demonstrated that dividing attention during learning results in diminished declarative memory relative to fully dedicating attention during learning (e.g., Baddeley, Lewis, Eldridge, & Thomson, 1984; Craik, Govoni, Naveh-Benjamin, & Anderson, 1996; Mulligan, 1998). However, the effects of divided attention during memory retrieval seem to be less severe than they are at encoding, with many studies failing to observe any effects other than reaction time (RT) costs to the secondary, or distractor, task (Baddeley et al., 1984; Craik et al., 1996; Naveh-Benjamin, Craik, Guez, & Dori, 1998; Naveh-Benjamin, Craik, Perretta, & Tonev, 2000). Retrieval costs tend to be maximal when the distractor task and mnemonic task compete for the same representational system (Fernandes & Moscovitch, 2000, 2002, 2003).

The extent to which attention influences memory retrieval may depend on the type of processes involved in the memory decision. Recognition memory decisions can be based either on recollection, the retrieval of specific contextual details associated with an item, or on familiarity, the sense of having encountered an item without retrieving any specific details (Tulving, 1985; Yonelinas, 2002). Recollection is thought to be a more attention demanding process, whereas familiarity is considered to be a more automatic process (Jacoby, 1991). Consequently, performance on memory tests that rely on item familiarity may be relatively unaffected by allocating attention to an unrelated distractor task, whereas performance on tests that involve effortful recollection processes may differentially suffer under conditions of divided attention (Lozito & Mulligan, 2006). Supporting this prediction, recent research suggests that recognition performance suffers under divided attention when study and test conditions promote elaborative encoding and contextual retrieval (Hicks & Marsh, 2000; Lozito & Mulligan, 2006; Troyer, Winocur, Craik, & Moscovitch, 1999).

Even when distraction does not impede successful memory retrieval, it may still produce mnemonic costs. The act of remembering serves to re-encode our experiences, increasing the chances that we will remember them in the future. As such, retrieval tests are particularly effective study events for ensuring subsequent remembering (Carrier & Pashler, 1992; Gates, 1917; Hogan & Kintsch, 1971; Landauer & Bjork, 1978; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006b; Wheeler, Ewers, & Buonanno, 2003). However, it is unknown whether these beneficial testing effects are attention dependent. Because divided attention during encoding diminishes recognition memory performance, we predicted that dividing attention during retrieval would similarly reduce the encoding power of a retrieval event, decreasing the likelihood of subsequent remembering. …

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