Out and about: subsequent memory effect captured in a natural outdoor environment with smartphone EEG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Maria Piñeyro Salvidegoitia
  • Nadine Jacobsen
  • Anna‐katharina R. Bauer
  • Benjamin Griffiths
  • Stefan Debener

External organisations

  • Neuropsychology Lab, Department of Psychology, European Medical School University of Oldenburg Oldenburg Germany
  • University of Oxford
  • Research Centre Neurosensory Science University of Oldenburg Oldenburg Germany
  • Cluster of Excellence Hearing4all University of Oldenburg Oldenburg Germany


Spatiotemporal context plays an important role in episodic memory. While temporal context effects have been frequently studied in the laboratory, ecologically valid spatial context manipulations are difficult to implement in stationary conditions. We investigated whether the neural correlates of successful encoding (subsequent memory effect) can be captured in a real‐world environment. An off‐the‐shelf Android smartphone was used for wireless mobile EEG acquisition and stimulus presentation. Participants encoded single words, each of which was presented at a different location on a university campus. Locations were approximately 10–12 m away from each other, half of them with striking features (landmarks) nearby. We predicted landmarks would improve recall performance. After a first free recall task of verbal stimuli indoors, participants performed a subsequent recall outdoors, in which words and locations were recalled. As predicted, significantly more words presented at landmark locations as well as significantly more landmark than nonlandmark locations were recalled. ERP analysis yielded a larger posterior positive deflection during encoding for hits compared to misses in the 400–800 ms interval. Likewise, time‐frequency analysis revealed a significant difference during encoding for hits compared to misses in the form of stronger alpha (200–300 ms) and theta (300–400 ms) power increases. Our results confirm that a vibrant spatial context is beneficial in episodic memory processing and that the underlying neural correlates can be captured with unobtrusive smartphone EEG technology. The advent of mobile EEG technology promises to unveil the relevance of natural physical activity and natural environments on memory.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13331
Number of pages15
Issue number5
Early online date18 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • episodic memory, landmarks, mobile EEG, outdoors, spatiotemporal context, subsequent memory effect