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Christopher Sundby, Geoffrey Woodman, Keisuke Fukuda; The costs and benefits of top-down control over visual long-term memory encoding. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):877. doi: 10.1167/17.10.877.
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Visual long-term memory allows us to store a virtually infinite amount of visual information (Standing, 1973; Brady et al., 2008). However, our ability to encode new visual information fluctuates from moment to moment. Here, we investigated the extent to which we have voluntary control over these periodic fluctuations in the quality of visual memory encoding. More specifically, we sequentially presented pictures of real objects and instructed participants to try to remember all of them. We pre- and post-cued a fraction of the stimuli for participants to "try harder to remember" (up-regulation) and to "try not to remember"(down-regulation). We found that visual memory encoding can only be up-regulated, and that both pre- and post-cues are equally effective. Next, we examined the negative side effects of voluntary up-regulation of visual memory encoding by manipulating the cue probability. Here we found that, although the cueing benefit was constant for both low (20%) and high (50%) cueing probabilities, the cueing benefit for the high cueing probability condition was primarily driven by the impaired visual memory encoding of uncued stimuli. A follow-up experiment demonstrated that this negative side effect of voluntary up-regulation of visual memory encoding is manifested as both retrograde and anterograde encoding impairment of temporally adjacent visual memories. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that top-down control of visual long-term memory storage can prioritize certain memories, but this prioritization has a dark side in that it casts a shadow over temporally adjacent objects. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01-EY019882, R01-EY025275, R01-MH110378, P30-EY08126, and T32-EY007135).
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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