Alpha oscillations during incidental encoding predict subsequent memory for new "foil" information

Vogelsang, D.A., Gruber, M., Bergström, Z.M., Ranganath, C., & Simons, J.S. (2017). bioRxiv. doi: 10.1101/141648.

People can employ adaptive strategies to increase the likelihood that previously encoded information will be successfully retrieved. One such strategy is to constrain retrieval towards relevant information by re-implementing the neurocognitive processes that were engaged during encoding. Using electroencephalography (EEG), we examined the temporal dynamics with which constraining retrieval towards semantic versus non-semantic information affects the processing of new "foil" information encountered during a memory test. Time-frequency analysis of EEG data acquired during an initial study phase revealed that semantic compared to non-semantic processing was associated with alpha decreases in a left frontal electrode cluster from around 600ms after stimulus onset. Successful encoding of semantic versus non-semantic foils during a subsequent memory test was related to decreases in alpha oscillatory activity in the same left frontal electrode cluster, which emerged relatively late in the trial at around 1000-1600ms after stimulus onset. Across subjects, left frontal alpha power elicited by semantic processing during the study phase correlated significantly with left frontal alpha power associated with semantic foil encoding during the memory test. Furthermore, larger left frontal alpha power decreases elicited by semantic foil encoding during the memory test predicted better subsequent semantic foil recognition in an additional surprise foil memory test. These findings indicate that constraining retrieval towards semantic information involves re-implementing semantic encoding operations that are mediated by alpha oscillations, and that such re-implementation occurs at a late stage of memory retrieval perhaps reflecting additional monitoring processes.