February 28, 2021

Trial-by-trial fluctuations in post-stimulus attention during memory encoding predict subsequent associative context memory performance.

Episodic memory formation rate varies over time partly due to fluctuations in attentional state during memory encoding. Emerging evidence suggests that fluctuations in pre- and/or post-stimulus attention during encoding impact subsequent memory performance. It remains unclear how these fluctuations may differentially impact the subsequent retrieval of items alone, compared to items + their contextual details (associative context memory). In this study, we explored this in 30 healthy younger adults (21-34 years old). We developed the Montreal Attention at Encoding (MAET) task where on each encoding trial, participants responded as quickly as possible to a central fixation cross that expanded in size after a random duration. They then had to encode a picture of an object and its spatial location. Memory for the object-location associations was tested during retrieval. Response time (RT) to the fixation cross presented prior to each object gauged pre-stimulus attention levels on a trial-by-trial basis, while RT to the fixation cross that ensued each object indexed post-stimulus attention levels. Within-subject logistic regressions were used to predict context and item memory performance from pre- and post-stimulus RTs. Results revealed that encoding pre-stimulus attentional levels did not differentially predict context vs. item memory. However, post-stimulus RTs did predict subsequent context retrieval such that, longer post-stimulus RT to the fixation was related to poorer subsequent context retrieval. This study introduces a novel paradigm for investigating the impact of attentional state at encoding on subsequent memory performance and indicate a link between post-stimulus delays in attention-related RT and associative encoding success.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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