Internal vs. External Attention and the Neurocognitive Processes of Subsequent Memory


The capacity to store large amounts of information is increasingly relevant in today’s data-saturated society. Two subtypes of our attentional mechanisms are known as internal and external attention, and are respectively characterized by the way we externally attend to relevant sensory information and how we focus inwardly to process and generate mental interpretations of this information. The nature of both external and internal attention and their respective roles in the perception and mental consolidation of sensory information have become integral components of the discussion of learning mechanisms, illustrating the importance of both the initial presentation and subsequent reproduction of stimuli over the course of encoding. We aim to look at the correlation between these two subtypes of attention and successful encoding and retrieval by eliciting steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP) – notable EEG spikes that coincide with the specific frequency of stimuli presentation – during a visual memory task. Improved memory performance was found to increase alongside with image vividness, and SSVEPs were shown to serve as a reliable marker of attentional diversion from external stimuli during internal visualization processes, with greater decreases in SSVEP power corresponding with subsequently remembered words in comparison to forgotten words. Using high temporally resolute EEG, we hope to uncover whether shifts in attentional loci reflect in differences in our memory performance.






Abiodun, Folasade (2018). Internal vs. External Attention and the Neurocognitive Processes of Subsequent Memory. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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