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Long-term memory encoding depends critically on effective processing of incoming information. The degree to which participants engage in effective encoding can be indexed in electroencephalographic (EEG) data by studying event-related potential (ERP) subsequent memory effects. The current study investigated ERP correlates of memory success operationalised with two different measures-memory selectivity and global memory-to assess whether previously observed ERP subsequent memory effects reflect focused encoding of task-relevant information (memory selectivity), general encoding success (global memory), or both. Building on previous work, the present study combined an attention switching paradigm-in which participants were presented with compound object-word stimuli and switched between attending to the object or the word across trials-with a later recognition memory test for those stimuli, while recording their EEG. Our results provided clear evidence that subsequent memory effects resulted from selective attentional focusing and effective top-down control (memory selectivity) in contrast to more general encoding success effects (global memory). Further analyses addressed the question of whether successful encoding depended on similar control mechanisms to those involved in attention switching. Interestingly, differences in the ERP correlates of attention switching and successful encoding, particularly during the poststimulus period, indicated that variability in encoding success occurred independently of prestimulus demands for top-down cognitive control. These results suggest that while effects of selective attention and selective encoding co-occur behaviourally their ERP correlates are at least partly dissociable.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Attention, Brain Mapping, Cognition, Electroencephalography, Evoked Potentials, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Long-Term, Photic Stimulation, Reaction Time