What are the units of storage in visual working memory?

Fougnie D, Asplund CL, Marois R
J Vis. 2010 10 (12): 27

PMID: 21047759 · PMCID: PMC3070178 · DOI:10.1167/10.12.27

An influential theory suggests that integrated objects, rather than individual features, are the fundamental units that limit our capacity to temporarily store visual information (S. J. Luck & E. K. Vogel, 1997). Using a paradigm that independently estimates the number and precision of items stored in working memory (W. Zhang & S. J. Luck, 2008), here we show that the storage of features is not cost-free. The precision and number of objects held in working memory was estimated when observers had to remember either the color, the orientation, or both the color and orientation of simple objects. We found that while the quantity of stored objects was largely unaffected by increasing the number of features, the precision of these representations dramatically decreased. Moreover, this selective deterioration in object precision depended on the multiple features being contained within the same objects. Such fidelity costs were even observed with change detection paradigms when those paradigms placed demands on the precision of the stored visual representations. Taken together, these findings not only demonstrate that the maintenance of integrated features is costly; they also suggest that objects and features affect visual working memory capacity differently.

MeSH Terms (11)

Attention Color Perception Female Form Perception Humans Male Memory, Short-Term Models, Neurological Orientation Photic Stimulation Young Adult

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