- Generalization from episodic memories across time: a route for semantic knowledge acquisition
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- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
The storage of input regularities, at all levels of processing complexity, is a fundamental property of the nervous system. At high levels of complexity, this may involve the extraction of associative regularities between higher order entities such as objects, concepts and environments across events that are separated in space and time. We propose that such a mechanism provides an important route towards the formation of higher order semantic knowledge. The present study assessed whether subjects were able to extract complex regularities from multiple associative memories and whether they could generalize this regularity knowledge to new items. We used a memory task in which subjects were required to learn face-location associations, but in which certain facial features were predictive of locations. We assessed generalization, as well as memory for arbitrary stimulus components, over a 4-h post-encoding consolidation period containing wakefulness or sleep. We also assessed the stability of regularity knowledge across a period of several weeks thereafter. We found that subjects were able to detect the regularity structure and use it in a generalization task. Interestingly, the performance on this task increased across the 4hr post-learning period. However, no differential effects of cerebral sleep and wake states during this interval were observed. Furthermore, it was found that regularity extraction hampered the storage of arbitrary facial features, resulting in an impoverished memory trace. Finally, across a period of several weeks, memory for the regularity structure appeared very robust whereas memory for arbitrary associations showed steep forgetting. The current findings improve our understanding of how regularities across memories impact memory (trans)formation.
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