Visual Search Enhances Subsequent Mnemonic Search

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Memory, Recall, Recognition, Visual search

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We examined how the performance of a visual search task while studying a list of to-be-remembered words affects subsequent memory for those words by humans. Previous research had suggested that episodic context encoding is facilitated when the study phase of a memory experiment requires, or otherwise encourages, a visual search for the to-be-remembered stimuli, and theta-band oscillations are more robust when animals are searching their environment. Moreover, hippocampal theta oscillations are positively correlated with learning in animals. We assumed that a visual search task performed during the encoding of words for a subsequent memory test would induce an exploratory state that would mimic the one that is induced in animals when performing exploratory activities in their environment, and that the encoding of episodic traces would be improved as a result. The results of several experiments indicated that the performance of the search task improved free recall, but the results did not extend to yes–no or forced choice recognition memory testing. We propose that visual search tasks enhance the encoding of episodic context information but do not enhance the encoding of to-be-remembered words.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Memory & Cognition, v. 41, issue 2, p. 167-175