Spatial resolution fundamentally limits any image representation. Although this limit has been extensively investigated for perceptual representations by assessing how neighboring flankers degrade the perception of a peripheral target with visual crowding, the corresponding limit for representations held in visual working memory (VWM) is unknown. In the present study, we evoked crowding in VWM and directly compared resolution in VWM and perception. Remarkably, the spatial resolution of VWM proved to be no worse than that of perception. However, mixture modeling of errors caused by crowding revealed the qualitatively distinct nature of these representations. Perceptual crowding errors arose from both increased imprecision in target representations and substitution of flankers for targets. By contrast, VWM crowding errors arose exclusively from substitutions, which suggests that VWM transforms analog perceptual representations into discrete items. Thus, although perception and VWM share a common resolution limit, exceeding this limit reveals distinct mechanisms for perceiving images and holding them in mind.
© The Author(s) 2015.