Implicit memory for words played during isoflurane- or propofol-based anesthesia: The Lexical decision task

Sinikka Münte*, Maren Schmidt, Maren Meyer, Wido Nager, Ekkehard Lüllwitz, Thomas F. Münte, Siegfried Piepenbrock

*Corresponding author for this work
7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Unconscious processing of words during general anesthesia has been suggested after surgery with several tests of implicit memory. Patients can neither recall those words nor do they have explicit memories of other intraoperative events. It is unclear to what degree information is processed during general anesthesia and which tests are best suited to detect implicit memory. In the current study, a lexical decision paradigm not previously used to demonstrate implicit memory during anesthesia was used. Methods: Sixty patients undergoing lumbar disc surgery were assigned to receive isoflurane infusion- or propofol infusion-based anesthesia combined with alfentanil infusions and a nitrous oxide-oxygen mixture. A control group of 10 medical students listened to tapes without receiving anesthesia. Two tapes, each containing a list of 30 low-frequency German nouns repeated for 15 min, were prepared, with half of the patients listening to tape A and the other half listening to tape B during the operation. Exposure time was 15 rain from the time of skin incision onward. In the test phase, approximately 7 h later, words from lists A and B plus 60 nonwords were presented in random order by a computer program. Subjects were asked to indicate, by pressing one of two response buttons, whether the spoken word was or was not a legal German word (lexical decision). Results: A recognition test revealed chance recognition for words presented during anesthesia. Lexical decision responses, however, were slightly faster to primed (previously presented) words than to unprimed (not previously presented) words when the entire group of patients was tested, suggesting a small implicit memory effect, which barely failed to reach the significance level. When the two medication groups were tested separately, no significant implicit memory effect could be ascertained statistically. The effects of previous exposure were much more pronounced in the control group. Conclusions: Balanced anesthesia techniques with isoflurane or propofol lead to only a minimal, statistically borderline implicit memory effect in the lexical decision paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)588-594
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 14.03.2002

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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