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Recent studies have demonstrated that memory performance can be enhanced by a cue which indicates the item most likely to be subsequently probed, even when that cue is delivered seconds after a stimulus array is extinguished. Although such retro-cuing has attracted considerable interest, the mechanisms underlying it remain unclear. Here, we tested the hypothesis that retro-cues might protect an item from degradation over time. We employed two techniques that previously have not been deployed in retro-cuing tasks. First, we used a sensitive, continuous scale for reporting the orientation of a memorized item, rather than binary measures (change or no change) typically used in previous studies. Second, to investigate the stability of memory across time, we also systematically varied the duration between the retro-cue and report. Although accuracy of reporting uncued objects rapidly declined over short intervals, retro-cued items were significantly more stable, showing negligible decline in accuracy across time and protection from forgetting. Retro-cuing an object's color was just as advantageous as spatial retro-cues. These findings demonstrate that during maintenance, even when items are no longer visible, attention resources can be selectively redeployed to protect the accuracy with which a cued item can be recalled over time, but with a corresponding cost in recall for uncued items.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform

Publication Date





1224 - 1231


Attention, Cues, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Mental Recall, Time Factors, Young Adult