The impact of semantic versus perceptual attention on memory representation

AbstractEncoding new information in relation to existing knowledge benefits learning. However, integration into existing knowledge might also lead to false memories for similar—but never-studied—information. Here, we asked whether certain attentional encoding states promote the integration of new information into prior knowledge, thereby enhancing memory and elevating false alarms. We manipulated participants’ attention to semantic versus perceptual features by cueing them to alternately make a judgment about the story (semantic) or artistic style (perceptual) of a series of pictures. We then used an old/new recognition test—which included new illustrations depicting studied stories or artistic styles (lures)—to assess whether story attention increased false alarms to story lures, representing integration into story knowledge. We found that semantic attention benefited memory. However, while integration into prior semantic knowledge was high overall, it was not impacted by attention. These findings suggest that while semantic attention improves memory, it does not do so by boosting integration of new memories into existing knowledge structures.

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