Boosting long-term memory via wakeful rest: intentional retrieval is not necessary, consolidation is sufficient

Michaela T Dewar, Jessica Alber, Nelson Cowan, Sergio Della Sala

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    71 Citations (Scopus)
    165 Downloads (Pure)


    People perform better on tests of delayed free recall if learning is followed immediately by a short wakeful rest than by a
    short period of sensory stimulation. Animal and human work suggests that wakeful resting provides optimal conditions for
    the consolidation of recently acquired memories. However, an alternative account cannot be ruled out, namely that wakeful
    resting provides optimal conditions for intentional rehearsal of recently acquired memories, thus driving superior memory.
    Here we utilised non-recallable words to examine whether wakeful rest boosts long-term memory, even when new
    memories could not be rehearsed intentionally during the wakeful rest delay. The probing of non-recallable words requires
    a recognition paradigm. Therefore, we first established, via Experiment 1, that the rest-induced boost in memory observed
    via free recall can be replicated in a recognition paradigm, using concrete nouns. In Experiment 2, participants heard 30
    non-recallable non-words, presented as ‘foreign names in a bridge club abroad’ and then either rested wakefully or played a
    visual spot-the-difference game for 10 minutes. Retention was probed via recognition at two time points, 15 minutes and 7
    days after presentation. As in Experiment 1, wakeful rest boosted recognition significantly, and this boost was maintained
    for at least 7 days. Our results indicate that the enhancement of memory via wakeful rest is not dependent upon intentional
    rehearsal of learned material during the rest period. We thus conclude that consolidation is sufficient for this rest-induced
    memory boost to emerge. We propose that wakeful resting allows for superior memory consolidation, resulting in stronger
    and/or more veridical representations of experienced events which can be detected via tests of free recall and recognition.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere109542
    Number of pages10
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2014


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