Explicit relevance instructions do not induce selective consolidation of associative memories

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Newly encoded memories are stabilized over time through a process or set of processes termed consolidation, which happens preferentially during sleep. However, not all memories equally profit from this offline stabilization. Previous research suggested that one factor, which determines whether a memory will benefit from sleep consolidation, is future relevance. The aim of our current study was to replicate these findings and expand them to include fMRI data. In our experiment, participants (N=40) learned two sets of stimuli, randomly intermixed. After learning, they were instructed that after a delay containing sleep they would be tested and rewarded only on one of the sets of stimuli. The relevance instruction was revoked immediately before test. Thus, the manipulation affected memory consolidation while having no influence on encoding and retrieval processes. Behaviorally, we find no effect of the relevance manipulation on memory retention, confidence rating, or reaction time. At a neural level, no effect of relevance on memory-related brain regions was observed. Contrary to our expectations, the relevance manipulation did not result in improved consolidation, nor in improved subsequent performance at retrieval. These findings challenge previous published results and suggest that future relevance may not be sufficient to produce enhanced memory consolidation.
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