BACKGROUND: Moderate intensity exercise has been shown to positively influence memory performance. This observed increase in memory performance may be due to an increase in attention from exercise. Attention has two distinct pathways that must be carefully considered when evaluating its association with memory performance. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between top-down and bottom-up attentional pathways and their respective effects on memory performance, ultimately allowing for follow-up experimental work evaluating these pathways in the exercise-memory relationship. METHODS: Participants (N = 16, Mage = 21.4) came to the lab and completed a two-phase cognitive task, including an attention-switching (AS) task (encoding) and a subsequent memory recognition test. The AS task consisted of 300 unique trials, including an attention cue followed by a compound stimulus; the compound stimuli included one stimulus (object or word) superimposed on the other. The preceding attention cue directed the participant to attend to only one of the stimuli (object or word). Trials included either repeat trials - attending to the same stimuli type (object or word) between the current and preceding trial - or switch trials, which included the current attended item type (e.g., object) switching from the attended item type (i.e., word) of the immediately preceding trial. The memory test consisted of a recognition test involving rendering old/new judgements for each of the attended and unattended (object or word) items; a 2 (Transition: Switch, Repeat) × 2 (Attention: Attended, Unattended) repeated measures ANOVA was performed with memory ratings as the outcome. RESULTS: An interaction of Transition by Attention, F(1, 15) = 6.266, p = .024, was observed, indicating a decrease in memory selectivity; when attention was switched on the subsequent trial, the memory ratings for the attended stimuli decreased while memory for the unattended stimuli on the subsequent trial increased. These results indicate a decrease in top-down attentional processing and, consequently, an increase in bottom-up processes. CONCLUSIONS: The evaluated attention-switching paradigm provides a reliable evaluation of top-down and bottom-up attentional processes and their respective effects on memory performance. Our follow-up work will evaluate these attentional processes as potential mechanisms in the exercise-memory relationship.

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