Memory-Guided Selective Attention: Single Experiences With Conflict Have Long-Lasting Effects on Cognitive Control

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Abstract

Adjustments in cognitive control, as measured by congruency sequence effects, are thought to be influenced by both external stimuli and internal goals. However, this dichotomy has often overshadowed the potential contribution of past experience stored in memory. Here, we examine the role of long-term episodic memory in guiding selective attention. Our aim was to demonstrate new evidence that selective attention can be modulated by long-term retrieval of stimulus-specific attentional control settings. All the experiments used a modified flanker task involving multiple unique stimuli. Critically, each stimulus was only presented twice during the experiment: first as a prime, and second as a probe. Experiments 1 and 2 varied the number of intervening trials between prime and probe and manipulated the amount of conflict using a secondary task. Experiment 3 ensured that specific colors assigned to prime stimuli were not repeated when presented as probes. Across both Experiments 1 and 2, we consistently found smaller congruency effects on probe trials when its associated prime trial was incongruent compared with congruent, demonstrating long-term congruency sequence effects. However, Experiment 3 showed no evidence for long-term effects. These findings suggest long-term preservation of selective attention processing at the episodic level, and implicate a role for memory in updating cognitive control.

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