The warning stimulus as retrieval cue: The role of associative memory in temporal preparation

Sander A. Los*, Jurre Nieuwenstein, Anass Bouharab, David J. Stephens, Martijn Meeter, Wouter Kruijne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In a warned reaction time task, the warning stimulus (S1) initiates a process of temporal preparation, which promotes a speeded response to the impending target stimulus (S2). According to the multiple trace theory of temporal preparation (MTP), participants learn the timing of S2 by storing a memory trace on each trial, which contains a temporal profile of the events on that trial. On each new trial, S1 serves as a retrieval cue that implicitly and associatively activates memory traces created on earlier trials, which jointly drive temporal preparation for S2. The idea that S1 assumes this role as a retrieval cue was tested across eight experiments, in which two different S1s were associated with two different distributions of S1-S2 intervals: one with predominantly short and one with predominantly long intervals. Experiments differed regarding the S1 features that made up a pair, ranging from highly distinct (e.g., tone and flash) to more similar (e.g., red and green flash) and verbal (i.e., “short” vs “long”). Exclusively for pairs of highly distinct S1s, the results showed that the S1 cue modified temporal preparation, even in participants who showed no awareness of the contingency. This cueing effect persisted in a subsequent transfer phase, in which the contingency between S1 and the timing of S2 was broken – a fact participants were informed of in advance. Together, these findings support the role of S1 as an implicit retrieval cue, consistent with MTP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101378
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalCognitive Psychology
Early online date29 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Associative learning
  • Long-term memory
  • Temporal orienting
  • Temporal preparation


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