Date of Award

Spring 4-4-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

MS Experimental Psychology




Marianne E. Lloyd, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy S. Joh, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amy Silvestri Hunter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kelly M. Goedert, Ph.D.


Selective attention, recognition memory, encoding, retrieval, ignored stimuli


Selective Attention is the process by which an individual attends to one stimulus while ignoring other distracting stimuli. Selective attention at encoding has been found to consistently impair memory performance. However, little research has found conclusive evidence as to the impact of selective attention during initial retrieval, and how that impacts retrieval on later tests, or the influence of the types of stimuli that participants are ignoring. The following series of experiments outline how selective attention impairs memory immediately and after a delay, during encoding and retrieval. Experiments 1-3 manipulated attention during retrieval. Experiment 1 found that selective attention during retrieval impaired initial and subsequent testing. The status (Target or Lure) of the ignored stimulus also impacted participants’ ability to correctly recognize stimuli during subsequent testing. Recognition memory was worse when the original stimulus consisted of one Target and one Lure, as opposed to two Targets or two Lures. Experiment 2 increased the difficulty of the subsequent memory test and found that this increase in difficulty only impacted the memory for ignored stimuli and the full attention advantage was eliminated. Experiment 3 was conducted to better understand to extent to which participants remember ignored stimuli by asking participants to endorse these items on a recognition memory test. These results also replicated Experiment 1 and 2, in that participants were worse at recognizing a stimulus if it was originally an ignored Lure during the initial test and was paired with a to-be-ignored Target. Experiment 4 manipulated attention during encoding. Participants were worse at recognizing a stimulus that was originally studied under selective attention, compared to stimulus originally studied under full attention. Overall, these results suggest that selective attention consistently impacts memory when presented during encoding, but the effect of selective attention during retrieval is less reliable. Additionally, participants do not truly ignore background stimuli and their ability to remember ignored stimuli depends on if a stimulus was paired with an object of the same or different status.