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Poster C26

Boundaries of behavioral tagging: arousal alters setting of learning tags produced by weak learning

Poster Session C - Sunday, April 14, 2024, 5:00 – 7:00 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Sydney Lambert1, Sophia Bibb2, Joseph Dunsmoor1; 1The University of Texas at Austin, 2The Ohio State University

Prior research has demonstrated that Pavlovian fear conditioning to an object category selectively enhances 24-hour episodic memory for related items encoded before conditioning (Dunsmoor et al., 2015; Hennings et al., 2021). This finding conforms to the behavioral tagging hypothesis, which posits that weak memories can be strengthened if a more salient event occurs around the time of weak learning (Ballarini et al., 2009). While prior rodent research has examined boundary conditions that govern behavioral tagging, the factors that initiate placement of behavioral tags in the first place remains underexplored. This study investigates whether a non-specific increase in arousal interferes with the placement of learning tags, therefore preventing memory capture by subsequent fear conditioning. In three experiments with 25 participants each, trial-unique items from two object categories (animals/tools) were encoded before, during, and after Pavlovian fear conditioning. Experiment 1 replicated prior findings, demonstrating selectively enhanced 24-hour recognition memory for fear-conditioned (CS+) versus unpaired (CS-) items across all encoding phases. Experiments 2 & 3 introduced non-specific arousal before weak encoding, but were otherwise identical to Experiment 1. Results demonstrated abolishment of the 24-hour selective retroactive memory effect. However, after ~1 month (Experiment 3), a selective retroactive enhancement emerged, suggesting that conceptual information related to threat-specific items (CS+) may be selectively consolidated in the long-term, even when the effect is not observable after a shorter retention interval (24 hours). These results contribute to understanding factors that modulate retroactive enhancements of episodic memory, highlighting the complex interplay between arousal, learning tags, and memory consolidation.

Topic Area: LONG-TERM MEMORY: Episodic


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