Motor engagement enhances incidental memory for task-irrelevant items

Daisuke Shimane, Takumi Tanaka*, Katsumi Watanabe, Kanji Tanaka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Actions shape what we see and memorize. A previous study suggested the interaction between motor and memory systems by showing that memory encoding for task-irrelevant items was enhanced when presented with motor-response cues. However, in the studies on the attentional boost effect, it has been revealed that detection of the target stimulus can lead to memory enhancement without requiring overt action. Thus, the direct link between the action and memory remains unclear. To exclude the effect of the target detection process as a potential confounder, this study assessed the benefit of action for memory by separating items from the response cue in time. In our pre-registered online experiment (N = 142), participants responded to visual Go cues by pressing a key (i.e., motor task) or counting (i.e., motor-neutral cognitive task) while ignoring No-go cues. In each trial, two task-irrelevant images were sequentially presented after the cue disappearance. After encoding the Go/No-go tasks, participants performed a surprise recognition memory test for those images. Importantly, we quantified the impact of overt execution of the action by comparing memories with and without motor response and the impact of covert motor processes (e.g., preparation and planning of action) by comparing memory between the motor and cognitive tasks. The results showed no memory differences between Go and No-go trials in the motor task. This means that the execution itself was not critical for memory enhancement. However, the memory performance in the motor No-go trials was higher than that in the cognitive No-go trials, only for the items presented away from the cues in time. Therefore, engaging the motor task itself could increase incidental memory for the task-irrelevant items compared to a passive viewing situation. We added empirical evidence on the online interaction between action and memory encoding. These memory advantages could be especially brought in action preparation and planning. We believe this fact may expand our present understanding of everyday memory, such as active learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number914877
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Aug 16


  • action execution
  • action preparation
  • action-induced memory enhancement
  • attentional boost effect
  • episodic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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