Sleep preserves original and distorted memory traces

Scott A. Cairney, Shane Lindsay, Ken A. Paller, M. Gareth Gaskell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Retrieval facilitates the long-term retention of memories, but may also enable stored representations to be updated with new information that is available at the time of retrieval. However, if information integrated during retrieval is erroneous, future recall can be impaired: a phenomenon known as retrieval-induced distortion (RID). Whether RID causes an “overwriting” of existing memory traces or leads to the co-existence of original and distorted memory traces is unknown. Because sleep enhances memory consolidation, the effects of sleep after RID can provide novel insights into the structure of updated memories. As such, we investigated the effects of sleep on memory consolidation following RID. Participants encoded word locations and were then tested before (T1) and after (T2) an interval of sleep or wakefulness. At T2, the majority of words were placed closer to the locations retrieved at T1 than to the studied locations, consistent with RID. After sleep compared with after wake, the T2-retrieved locations were closer to both the studied locations and the T1-retrieved locations. These findings suggest that RID leads to the formation of an additional memory trace that corresponds to a distorted variant of the same encoding event, which is strengthened alongside the original trace during sleep. More broadly, these data provide evidence for the importance of sleep in the preservation and adaptive updating of memories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-44
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Consolidation
  • Distortion
  • Memory
  • Retrieval
  • Sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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