Alpha Oscillations during Incidental Encoding Predict Subsequent Memory for New “Foil” Information.


People can employ adaptive strategies to increase the likelihood that previously encoded information will be successfully retrieved. One such strategy is to constrain retrieval toward relevant information by reimplementing the neurocognitive processes that were engaged during encoding. Using EEG, we examined the temporal dynamics with which constraining retrieval toward semantic versus nonsemantic information affects the processing of new "foil" information encountered during a memory test. Time-frequency analysis of EEG data acquired during an initial study phase revealed that semantic compared with nonsemantic processing was associated with alpha decreases in a left frontal electrode cluster from around 600 msec after stimulus onset. Successful encoding of semantic versus nonsemantic foils during a subsequent memory test was related to decreases in alpha oscillatory activity in the same left frontal electrode cluster, which emerged relatively late in the trial at around 1000-1600 msec after stimulus onset. Across participants, left frontal alpha power elicited by semantic processing during the study phase correlated significantly with left frontal alpha power associated with semantic foil encoding during the memory test. Furthermore, larger left frontal alpha power decreases elicited by semantic foil encoding during the memory test predicted better subsequent semantic foil recognition in an additional surprise foil memory test, although this effect did not reach significance. These findings indicate that constraining retrieval toward semantic information involves reimplementing semantic encoding operations that are mediated by alpha oscillations and that such reimplementation occurs at a late stage of memory retrieval, perhaps reflecting additional monitoring processes.