Forgetting from lapses of sustained attention

Megan T. deBettencourt, Kenneth A. Norman, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


When performing any task for an extended period of time, attention fluctuates between good and bad states. These fluctuations affect performance in the moment, but may also have lasting consequences for what gets encoded into memory. Experiment 1 establishes this relationship between attentional states and memory, by showing that subsequent memory for an item was predicted by a response time index of sustained attention (average response time during the three trials prior to stimulus onset). Experiment 2 strengthens the causal interpretation of this predictive relationship by treating the sustained attention index as an independent variable to trigger the appearance of an encoding trial. Subsequent memory was better when items were triggered from good versus bad attentional states. Together, these findings suggest that sustained attention can have downstream consequences for what we remember, and they highlight the inferential utility of adaptive experimental designs. By continuously monitoring attention, we can influence what will later be remembered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-611
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Distraction
  • Episodic memory
  • Goal-directed attention
  • Real time


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