Shifting Covert Attention to Spatially Indexed Locations Increases Retrieval Performance of Verbal Information


People look at emptied spatial locations where information has been presented during encoding. There is evidence that this socalled ‘looking at nothing’ behaviour plays a functional role in memory retrieval of visuospatial and verbal information. However, it is unclear whether this effect is caused by the oculomotor movement of the eyes per se or if covertly shifting attention is sufficient to cause the observed differences in retrieval performance. In an experimental study (N = 26), participants were manipulated in being able to shift either their eyes or their focus of attention to a blank spatial location whilst retrieving verbal information that was associated with the location during a preceding encoding phase. Results indicate that it is not the oculomotor movement of the eyes that causes the facilitation while retrieving verbal materials, but rather covert shifts of attention are sufficient to promote differences in retrieval performance.

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