Contrasts between ERPs elicited by new items from tests with distinct episodic retrieval requirements index preretrieval processing. Preretrieval operations are thought to facilitate the recovery of task-relevant information because they have been shown to correlate with response accuracy in tasks in which prioritizing the retrieval of this information could be a useful strategy. This claim was tested here by contrasting new item ERPs from two retrieval tasks, each designed to explicitly require the recovery of a different kind of mnemonic information. New item ERPs differed from 400 msec poststimulus, but the distribution of these effects varied markedly, depending upon participants' response accuracy: A protracted posteriorly located effect was present for higher performing participants, whereas an anteriorly distributed effect occurred for lower performing participants. The magnitude of the posterior effect from 400 to 800 msec correlated with response accuracy, supporting the claim that preretrieval processes facilitate the recovery of task-relevant information. Additional contrasts between ERPs from these tasks and an old/new recognition task operating as a relative baseline revealed task-specific effects with nonoverlapping scalp topographies, in line with the assumption that these new item ERP effects reflect qualitatively distinct retrieval operations. Similarities in these effects were also used to reason about preretrieval processes related to the general requirement to recover contextual details. These insights, alongside the distinct pattern of effects for the two accuracy groups, reveal the multifarious nature of preretrieval processing while indicating that only some of these classes of operation are systematically related to response accuracy in recognition memory tasks.

You do not currently have access to this content.