Pupil dilation tracks the dynamics of mnemonic interference resolution

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Mnemonic interference refers to the inability to retrieve a goal-relevant memory due to interference from goal-irrelevant memories. Understanding the causes of such interference and how it is overcome has been a central goal in the science of memory for more than a century. Here, we shed new light on this fundamental issue by tracking participants’ pupil response when they encode and retrieve memories in the face of competing goal-irrelevant memories. We show that pupil dilation systematically increased in accordance with interference from competing memory traces when participants retrieved previously learned information. Moreover, our results dissociate two main components in the pupillary response signal: an early component, which peaked in a time window where the pupillary waveform on average had its maximum peak, and a late component, which peaked towards the end of the retrieval task. We provide evidence that the early component is specifically modulated by the cognitive effort needed to handle interference from competing memory traces whereas the late component reflects general task engagement. This is the first demonstration that mnemonic interference resolution can be tracked online in the pupil signal and offers novel insight into the underlying dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4826
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar 19

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology


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