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Refresh my memory: Episodic memory reinstatements intrude on working memory maintenance

By Abigail N. Hoskin, Aaron M. Bornstein, Kenneth A. Norman, Jonathan D. Cohen

Posted 31 Jul 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/170720 (published DOI: 10.3758/s13415-018-00674-z)

A fundamental question in memory research is how different forms of memory interact. Previous research has shown that people rely on working memory (WM) in short-term recognition tasks; a common view is that episodic memory (EM) only influences performance on these tasks when WM maintenance is disrupted. However, retrieval of memories from EM has been widely observed during brief periods of quiescence, raising the possibility that EM retrievals during maintenance - critically, before a response can be prepared - might affect short-term recognition memory performance even in the absence of distraction. We hypothesized that this influence would be mediated by the lingering presence of reactivated EM content in WM. We obtained support for this hypothesis in three experiments, showing that delay-period EM reactivation introduces incidentally-associated information (context) into WM, and that these retrieved associations negatively impact subsequent recognition, leading to substitution errors (Experiment 1) and slowing of accurate responses (Experiment 2). fMRI pattern analysis showed that slowing is mediated by the content of EM reinstatement (Experiment 3). These results expose a previously hidden influence of EM on WM, raising new questions about the adaptive nature of their interaction.

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