Attentional flexibility and prioritization improves long-term memory

Joshua Sandry, Mark D. Zuppichini, Timothy J. Ricker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Recent evidence suggests the focus of attention (FoA) is a flexible resource within working memory (WM) used to temporarily maintain some information in a highly accessible state. This flexibility comes at the expense of other representations, demonstrating a resource trade-off in WM maintenance. The present experiments evaluate how flexibility within the FoA impacts long-term memory (LTM) for semantically meaningful information. A WM probe-recognition task was used in which two items were presented in black and a single item was presented in red. To encourage the prioritization and uninterrupted preferential maintenance of specific items, a process we call online refreshing, the red item was associated with a greater point-reward value than were the black items. This WM task was followed by a surprise delayed LTM test. In Experiment 1, the FoA flexibly adjusted to maintain non-recent semantic information with evidence for a resource trade-off across list positions. Flexibility also directly improved LTM. In Experiment 2, reward value was equated across red and black items to evaluate whether an alternative explanation, distinctiveness of encoding, could account for the LTM findings. When reward value was equated, the cued item did not encourage flexible orienting of the FoA toward non-recent items and there was no benefit of the distinct red item on LTM performance. While supportive of past research, these data further demonstrate that semantic information can be flexibly prioritized at the expense of other list positions and that this is directly tied to improvements in LTM.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103104
JournalActa Psychologica
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Attention
  • Cognitive control
  • Long-term memory
  • Maintenance
  • Reward
  • Working memory


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