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We are limited in our information processing capacity. Yet, we can successfully navigate our surroundings and establish complicated tasks. This is thanks to the effective interplay between different cognitive mechanisms including attention, memory, and cognitive control. Our research focuses on investigating how these cognitive systems interact to guide our behavior.

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Attention guided to memories


Some information is more important than others, not only in the external world but also in our mind. 

We can attend to a particular memory representation more than the other. But what is the consequence of such differential attentional weighing of memories? Is the attended memory remembered with greater precision? Are unattended memories forgotten? 

We found that attending to memory makes it less likely to be forgotten and also more precise. This benefit is partly due to the protection of the attended representation against interference. It takes about 400-600 ms to establish attention-based protection (van Moorselaar et al., 2015). The fate of unattended memories, on the other hand, depends on their potential future relevance. An unattended representation is more likely to be forgotten if there is a lower chance for it to become relevant in the future (Gunseli et al., 2015; Gunseli et al., 2018). Together, these results show that attention and storage in WM are distinct processes and that attention protects WM representations.


Gunsel, Fahrenfort, van Moorselaar, Daoultzis, Meeter, & Olivers (2019). EEG dynamics reveal a dissociation between selective attention and storage in working memory. Nature Scientific Reports. Link.

Gunseli, E., van Moorselaar, D., Meeter, M., & Olivers, C. N. L. (2015). The reliability of retro-cues determines the fate of non-cued visual working memory representations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22(5), 1334-1341. PDF.

Serin, F., & Günseli, E. (2022). Internal attention is the only retroactive mechanism for controlling precision in working memory. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-12. PDF.

Tarder-Stoll, H.*, Jayakumar, M.*, Dimsdale-Zucker, H. R., Günseli, E., Aly, M. (2020). Dynamic internal states shape memory retrieval. Neuropsychologia. Link to preprint.


van Moorselaar, D., Gunseli, E., Theeuwes, J., & Olivers, C. N. L. (2015). The time course of protecting a visual memory representation from perceptual interference. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 1053. PDF.

Segmented memories of a continous world


We experience the world in a continuous manner. However, our memories are segmented. We remember some instances closer to each other when they share a particular location, goal, or emotion. Our lab recently started exploring mechanisms of event segmentation. At the moment, we have a preprint. More papers to come in the near future. :)

Güler, B., Adıgüzel, Z., Uysal, B., & Günseli, E. (2023) Discrete memories of a continuous world: A working memory perspective on event segmentation. Link.

Interplays between working memory and episodic memory


We store memories of past events in episodic memory. Currently relevant information is stored in working memory. Although often studied independently, these two memory systems are in constant interplay. Thanks to multiple grants from TÜBİTAK and Sabancı University, our lab developed multiple studies to explore these interplays. Some of them are accepted as registered reports and will be on their way to reach to you. Below is a preprint from one of them. 

Senturk, Y. D., Ünver, N., Demircan, C., Egner, T., & Gunseli, E. (2023). The reactivation of task rules triggers the reactivation of task-relevant items. Link.

Attention guided by memories


Humans have very limited information processing capacity yet they are faced with a vast amount of information in almost every moment of their lives. Therefore, we need to select the most relevant information and inhibit information that is irrelevant to their current task goals. But how do we know what to select? 

Attention is guided by memory representations or so-called attentional templates. Attentional templates can be stored either actively in working memory or passively in long-term memory. Do templates in working memory differ in the way they guide attention from templates in long-term memory? If so, does the memory status change depending on the type of anticipated attentional guidance? For example, do we form an active template for our friend whom we are looking for in a crowded mall instead of an empty beach?


Our research shows that the anticipated difficulty of search determines the effort of maintaining the search template (Gunseli et al., 2014a; Gunseli et al., 2014b). However, repeatedly searching for the same target results in the transfer of the search template from working memory to long-term memory independent of the anticipated search difficulty (Gunseli et al., 2014a). When there is a conflict between working memory and long-term memory goals working memory is the winner: We involuntarily attend to the distracters that match our working memory (Gunseli et al., 2015).

Günseli, E, Aly, M. (2020). Preparation for upcoming attentional states in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex. eLife. Link


Gunseli, E., Meeter, M., & Olivers, C. N. L. (2015). Task-Irrelevant Memories Rapidly Gain Attentional Control with Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. PDF.


Gunseli, E., Meeter, M., & Olivers, C. N. L. (2014). Is a search template an ordinary working memory? Comparing electrophysiological markers of working memory maintenance for visual search and recognition. Neuropsychologia,60, 29-38. PDF

Gunseli, E., Olivers, C. N. L., & Meeter, M. (2014). Effects of search difficulty on the selection, maintenance, and learning of attentional templates. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 26, 2042- 2054. PDF.

Distraction during memory retrieval


Storing memories is not enough. We need to access these memories to bring them to mind. Distraction during accessing our memories, also called retrieval, can be detrimental to memories. However, sometimes the detrimental effects are not observed. Moreover, what aspects of memories suffer from distraction and how much control do humans have protecting memories during retrieval remain to be explored. We have multiple projects in the lab that aim to explore these exciting issues. For a review paper that we wrote on this topic, see the link below.

Ataseven, N., Ünver1&2, N., & Günseli, E. (2023). How does divided attention hinder different stages of episodic memory retrieval?. Link.

Rhythms of attention and memory


Recent studies found that attention fluctuates over time. Likewise, memory encoding and retrieval fluctuate at a theta rhythm. These findings highlight exciting dynamics regarding attention and memory that are not reflected in our conscious awareness. One of the novel lines of research in the lab is to explore these rhythms, their interactions with top-down goals, and the similarities and differences of the rhythms in attention and memory.

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