Training semantic long-term memory retrieval transfers to executive function and reading fluency

Zhang Haobo, Lisa-Marie Henderson, Ji Xiying, Zhang Qiyun, Zhang Bin, Huang Xiangtao, Ren Min, Ma Xiaofeng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The retrieval of information from long-term memory is a fundamental cognitive ability, crucial for most aspects of successful human functioning. Whether and how long-term memory retrieval (LTMR) can be improved with training has clear societal importance but also theoretical value for furthering our understanding of underlying mechanisms. Here, we provide electrophysiological evidence for the plasticity of semantic LTMR. Thirty-five university students were randomly assigned to adaptive semantic LTMR training (using a Posner task) or to a non-adaptive version of the training. Before and after training they were assessed on measures of semantic LTMR, working memory, central executive function (interference control, switching), reading fluency, and fluid intelligence. Adaptive LTMR training (relative to non-adaptive training) led to significant improvements in semantic LTMR. The intervention group (in contrast to the control group) also showed a significant reduction in the mean amplitude of the N400 ERP component and 700–1000 ms measured during a semantic LTMR task, suggesting that changes in retrieval occurred at an early/automatic point and retrieval processing in semantic processing. Moreover, transfer effects were observed for switching, working memory and reading fluency, but not for interference control or fluid intelligence. These results point to the plasticity of semantic LTMR, and suggest that improvement in this ability can transfer to other domains for which LTMR is key.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108789
Number of pages12
JournalBiological psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024

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