Modulation of the electrophysiological correlates of retrieval cue processing by the specificity of task demands


Retrieval orientation refers to the differential processing of retrieval cues according to the type of information sought from memory (e.g., words vs. pictures). In the present study, event-related potentials (ERPs) were employed to investigate whether the neural correlates of differential retrieval orientations are sensitive to the specificity of the retrieval demands of the test task. In separate study-test phases, subjects encoded lists of intermixed words and pictures, and then undertook one of two retrieval tests, in both of which the retrieval cues were exclusively words. In the recognition test, subjects performed ‘old/new’ discriminations on the test items, and old items corresponded to only one class of studied material (words or pictures). In the exclusion test, old items corresponded to both classes of study material, and subjects were required to respond ‘old’ only to test items corresponding to a designated class of material. Thus, demands for retrieval specificity were greater in the exclusion test than during recognition. ERPs elicited by correctly classified new items in the two types of test were contrasted according to whether words or pictures were the sought-for material. Material-dependent ERP effects were evident in both tests, but the effects onset earlier and offset later in the exclusion test. The findings suggest that differential processing of retrieval cues, and hence the adoption of differential retrieval orientations, varies according to the specificity of the retrieval goal.

Brain Research, 1071(1), 153–164