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Hui Chen, Brad Wyble; Accessing without remembering: memory consolidation of information at the focus of awareness is optional. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1427. doi: 10.1167/16.12.1427.
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It is well known that fleeting or phenomenal awareness will not necessarily lead to memory consolidation, as shown by iconic memory or post-masking studies, but it is generally assumed that information that reaches a state of full awareness will be consolidated into memory. A recent study challenged this assumption by showing that participants can exhibit a striking inability to report information that they had just accessed from a visual display when given a surprise question (i.e. Attribute Amnesia; Chen & Wyble, 2015). However, this paradigm could not conclusively determine whether the effect is due to forgetting caused by the surprise question or a failure to consolidate the information. A new series of experiments reveals that it is possible to have awareness of a specific stimulus attribute and yet fail to consolidate that information into memory. Specifically, participants were presented a colored fixation cross simultaneously with four different colored letters and asked to locate the target letter with the same color as the fixation cross for numerous repetitions. Then on a surprise trial they were asked to report the color of the target letter before reporting its location. In this case participants could not report the color even though they had just used that color to locate the target. However, in a parallel experiment performance on the surprise question was much better once participants were forced to store and hold the unmasked fixation color for just 100ms before using it to locate the target letter. These findings suggest that awareness is not sufficient to create a robust memory representation and that there is a subsequent memory consolidation process which is selectively employed only if the task requires it. Further implications of these results regarding the relationship among attention, awareness, and memory will be discussed.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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