Transfer of memory retrieval cues in rats

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Two experiments using rats were conducted to determine whether the retrieval of a memory could be brought under the control of new contextual cues that had not been present at the time of training. In Experiment 1, rats were trained in one context and then exposed to different contextual cues immediately, 60 min, or 120 min after training. When tested in the shifted context, rats that had been exposed shortly after training treated the shifted context as if it were the original context. The control that the previously neutral context had over retrieval disappeared with longer posttraining delays, suggesting the importance of an active memory representation during exposure. Experiment 2 replicated the basic finding and demonstrated that the transfer of retrieval cues was specific to the contextual cues present during exposure. These findings with rats are consistent with findings from infant research (see, e.g., Boller & Rovee-Collier, 1992) that have shown that a neutral context can come to serve as a retrieval cue for an episode experienced elsewhere.

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