Competitive semantic memory retrieval: Temporal dynamics revealed by event-related potentials

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Copyright © 2016 Hellerstedt, Johansson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permitsunrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Memories compete for retrieval when they are related to a common retrieval cue. Previous research has shown that retrieval of a target memory may lead to subsequent retrievalinduced forgetting (RIF) of currently irrelevant competing memories. In the present study, we investigated the time course of competitive semantic retrieval and examined the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying RIF. We contrasted two theoretical accounts of RIF by examining a critical aspect of this memory phenomenon, namely the extent to which it depends on successful retrieval of the target memory. Participants first studied categoryexemplar word-pairs (e.g. Fruit-Apple). Next, we recorded electrophysiological measures of brain activity while the participants performed a competitive semantic cued-recall task. In this task, the participants were provided with the studied categories but they were instructed to retrieve other unstudied exemplars (e.g. Fruit-Ma-?). We investigated the eventrelated potential (ERP) correlates of retrieval success by comparing ERPs from successful and failed retrieval trials. To isolate the ERP correlates of continuous retrieval attempts from the ERP correlates of retrieval success, we included an impossible retrieval condition, with incompletable word-stem cues (Drinks-Wy-) and compared it with a non-retrieval presentation baseline condition (Occupation-Dentist). The participants' memory for all the studied exemplars was tested in the final phase of the experiment. Taken together, the behavioural results suggest that RIF is independent of target retrieval. Beyond investigating the mechanisms underlying RIF, the present study also elucidates the temporal dynamics of semantic cued-recall by isolating the ERP correlates of retrieval attempt and retrieval success. The ERP results revealed that retrieval attempt is reflected in a late posterior negativity, possibly indicating construction of candidates for completing the word-stem cue and retrieval monitoring whereas retrieval success was reflected in an anterior positive slow wave.




Hellerstedt, R., & Johansson, M. (2016). Competitive semantic memory retrieval: Temporal dynamics revealed by event-related potentials. PLoS ONE, 11(2).

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