The Impact of Napping on Memory for Future-Relevant Stimuli: Prioritization Among Multiple Salience Cues

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Prior research has demonstrated that sleep enhances memory for future-relevant information, including memory for information that is salient due to emotion, reward, or knowledge of a later memory test. Although sleep has been shown to prioritize information with any of these characteristics, the present study investigates the novel question of how sleep prioritizes information when multiple salience cues exist. Participants encoded scenes that were future-relevant based on emotion (emotional vs. neutral), reward (rewarded vs. unrewarded), and instructed learning (intentionally vs. incidentally encoded), preceding a delay consisting of a nap, an equivalent time period spent awake, or a nap followed by wakefulness (to control for effects of interference). Recognition testing revealed that when multiple dimensions of future relevance co-occur, sleep prioritizes top-down, goal-directed cues (instructed learning, and to a lesser degree, reward) over bottom-up, stimulus-driven characteristics (emotion). Further, results showed that these factors interact; the effect of a nap on intentionally encoded information was especially strong for neutral (relative to emotional) information, suggesting that once one cue for future relevance is present, there are diminishing returns with additional cues. Sleep may binarize information based on whether it is future-relevant or not, preferentially consolidating memory for the former category. Potential neural mechanisms underlying these selective effects and the implications of this research for educational and vocational domains are discussed.

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