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Mem Cognit. 2009 Oct;37(7):953-61. doi: 10.3758/MC.37.7.953.

Attention during memory retrieval enhances future remembering.

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Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.


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.

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