Electrophysiological evidence for flexible goal-directed cue processing during episodic retrieval

Jane E Herron, Lisa H Evans, Edward Wilding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
104 Downloads (Pure)


A widely held assumption is that memory retrieval is aided by cognitive control processes that are engaged flexibly in service of memory retrieval and memory decisions. While there is some empirical support for this view, a notable exception is the absence of evidence for the flexible use of retrieval control in functional neuroimaging experiments requiring frequent switches between tasks with different cognitive demands. This absence is troublesome in so far as frequent switches between tasks mimic some of the challenges that are typically placed on memory outside the laboratory. In this experiment we instructed participants to alternate frequently between three episodic memory tasks requiring item recognition or retrieval of one of two different kinds of contextual information encoded in a prior study phase (screen location or encoding task). Event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by unstudied items in the two tasks requiring retrieval of study context were reliably different, demonstrating for the first time that ERPs index task-specific processing of retrieval cues when retrieval goals change frequently. The inclusion of the item recognition task was a novel and important addition in this study, because only the ERPs elicited by unstudied items in one of the two context conditions diverged from those in the item recognition condition. This outcome constrains functional interpretations of the differences that emerged between the two context conditions and emphasises the utility of this baseline in functional imaging studies of retrieval processing operations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-31
Number of pages8
Early online date15 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • adolescent
  • adult
  • cerebral cortex/physiology
  • cues
  • electroencephalography
  • evoked potentials
  • executive Function/physiology
  • female
  • goals
  • humans
  • male
  • episodic memory
  • mental recall/physiology
  • young adult


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