Divided Attention Can Enhance Memory Encoding: The Attentional Boost Effect in Implicit Memory

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Distraction during encoding has long been known to disrupt later memory performance. Contrary to this long-standing result, we show that detecting an infrequent target in a dual-task paradigm actually improves memory encoding for a concurrently presented word, above and beyond the performance reached in the full-attention condition. This absolute facilitation was obtained in 2 perceptual implicit tasks (lexical decision and word fragment completion) but not in a conceptual implicit task (semantic classification). In the case of recognition memory, the facilitation was relative, bringing accuracy in the divided attention condition up to the level of accuracy in the full attention condition. The findings follow from the hypothesis that the attentional boost effect reflects enhanced visual encoding of the study stimulus consequent to the transient orienting response to the dual-task target.

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