Divided attention improves delayed, but not immediate retrieval of a consolidated memory Academic Article uri icon


  • A well-documented dissociation between memory encoding and retrieval concerns the role of attention in the two processes. The typical finding is that divided attention (DA) during encoding impairs future memory, but retrieval is relatively robust to attentional manipulations. However, memory research in the past 20 years had demonstrated that retrieval is a memory-changing process, in which the strength and availability of information are modified by various characteristics of the retrieval process. Based on this logic, several studies examined the effects of DA during retrieval (Test 1) on a future memory test (Test 2). These studies yielded inconsistent results. The present study examined the role of memory consolidation in accounting for the after-effect of DA during retrieval. Initial learning required a classification of visual stimuli, and hence involved incidental learning. Test 1 was administered 24 hours after initial learning, and therefore required retrieval of consolidated information. Test 2 was administered either immediately following Test 1 or after a 24-hour delay. Our results show that the effect of DA on Test 2 depended on this delay. DA during Test 1 did not affect performance on Test 2 when it was administered immediately, but improved performance when Test 2 was given 24-hours later. The results are consistent with other findings showing long-term benefits of retrieval difficulty. Implications for theories of reconsolidation in human episodic memory are discussed.

publication date

  • January 1, 2014