From Cue to Recall : The Temporal Dynamics of Long-Term Memory Retrieval

Abstract: A fundamental function of long-term memory is the ability to retrieve a specific memory when encountering a retrieval cue. The purpose of this dissertation was to further our understanding of such cued recall by investigating the temporal dynamics from the presentation of the retrieval cue until the target memory is recalled. Retrieval cues are often related with several memories. When such a retrieval cue is presented, the associated memories will compete for retrieval and this retrieval competition needs to be handled in order to retrieve the sought after target memory. Study 1 and Study 2 investigated the temporal dynamics of such competitive semantic cued recall. Interestingly, previous research has shown that the ability to retrieve the currently relevant target memory comes with a cost, namely retrieval-induced forgetting of the competing memories. These studies also investigated the role of competitor activation and target retrieval in this forgetting phenomenon. Study 1 investigated the electrophysiological correlates of reactivation of competing currently irrelevant memories and the role of such competitor activation in retrieval-induced forgetting. Competitor activation was related to an FN400 event-related potential (ERP) effect and this effect predicted increased levels of retrieval-induced forgetting, indicating that this forgetting effect is dependent on competitor activation. Study 2 examined processes involved in target retrieval in a similar competitive semantic cued recall task. The main finding in this study was that attempts to retrieve the target memory were related to a late posterior negativity ERP effect. Another important finding was that behavioural and ERP measures of target retrieval were unrelated to retrieval-induced forgetting. Retrieval cues can sometimes elicit involuntary retrieval of unwanted memories. Such memory intrusions are a core symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Study 3 investigated the temporal dynamics of such memory intrusions. One of the key findings was that memory intrusions were related to a negative slow wave ERP effect possibly reflecting the activation of the intruding memory in working memory. Taken together the findings in the dissertation indicate that cued recall involves several cognitive processes ranging from early automatic memory reactivation to conscious processes such as working memory activation and recollection. The findings have implications for cognitive theories of memory and have relevance for several clinical conditions including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.