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Electrophysiological evidence for flexible goal-directed cue processing during episodic retrieval

Herron, Jane E.; Evans, Lisa H.; Wilding, Edward L.


Jane E. Herron

Lisa H. Evans

Edward L. Wilding


A widely held assumption is that memory retrieval is aided by cognitive control processes that are engaged flexibly in service of memory retrieval and memory decisions. While there is some empirical support for this view, a notable exception is the absence of evidence for the flexible use of retrieval control in functional neuroimaging experiments requiring frequent switches between tasks with different cognitive demands. This absence is troublesome in so far as frequent switches between tasks mimic some of the challenges that are typically placed on memory outside the laboratory. In this experiment we instructed participants to alternate frequently between three episodic memory tasks requiring item recognition or retrieval of one of two different kinds of contextual information encoded in a prior study phase (screen location or encoding task). Event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by unstudied items in the two tasks requiring retrieval of study context were reliably different, demonstrating for the first time that ERPs index task-specific processing of retrieval cues when retrieval goals change frequently. The inclusion of the item recognition task was a novel and important addition in this study, because only the ERPs elicited by unstudied items in one of the two context conditions diverged from those in the item recognition condition. This outcome constrains functional interpretations of the differences that emerged between the two context conditions and emphasises the utility of this baseline in functional imaging studies of retrieval processing operations.


Herron, J. E., Evans, L. H., & Wilding, E. L. (2016). Electrophysiological evidence for flexible goal-directed cue processing during episodic retrieval. NeuroImage, 132, 24-31.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 9, 2016
Online Publication Date Feb 15, 2016
Publication Date May 15, 2016
Deposit Date Jun 15, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jun 15, 2016
Journal NeuroImage
Print ISSN 1053-8119
Electronic ISSN 1095-9572
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 132
Pages 24-31
Keywords Event-related potentials, Episodic memory, Cue processing
Retrieval orientation, Content specificity, Task-switching, Preparatory processing
Public URL
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