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Brief targeted memory reactivation during the awake state enhances memory stability and benefits the weakest memories.


Reactivation of representations corresponding to recent experience is thought to be a critical mechanism supporting long-term memory stabilization. Targeted memory reactivation, or the re-exposure of recently learned cues, seeks to induce reactivation and has been shown to benefit later memory when it takes place during sleep. However, despite recent evidence for endogenous reactivation during post-encoding awake periods, less work has addressed whether awake targeted memory reactivation modulates memory. Here, we found that brief (50 ms) visual stimulus re-exposure during a repetitive foil task enhanced the stability of cued versus uncued associations in memory. The extent of external or task-oriented attention prior to re-exposure was inversely related to cueing benefits, suggesting that an internally-orientated state may be most permissible to reactivation. Critically, cueing-related memory benefits were greatest in participants without explicit recognition of cued items and remained reliable when only considering associations not recognized as cued, suggesting that explicit cue-triggered retrieval processes did not drive cueing benefits. Cueing benefits were strongest for associations and participants with the poorest initial learning. These findings expand our knowledge of the conditions under which targeted memory reactivation can benefit memory, and in doing so, support the notion that reactivation during awake time periods improves memory stabilization.

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