Many studies have found that representations in working memory (WM) can guide visual attention towards items that match the features of the WM contents. While some researchers contend that this occurs involuntarily, others suggest that the impact of WM content on attention can be strategically controlled. Here, we varied the probability that WM items would coincide with either targets or distracters in a visual search task to examine (i) whether participants could intentionally enhance or inhibit the influence of WM items on attention, and (ii) whether cognitive control over WM biases would also affect access to the memory content in a surprise recognition test. We found visual search to be faster when the WM item coincided with the search target, and this effect was enhanced when the memory item reliably predicted the location of the target. Conversely, visual search was slowed when the memory item coincided with a search distracter, and this effect was diminished, but not abolished, when the memory item was reliably associated with distracters. This strategic dampening of the influence of WM items on attention came at a price to memory, however, as participants were slowest to perform WM recognition tests on blocks when the WM content was consistently invalid. These results document that attentional capture by WM contents is partly, but not fully, malleable by top-down control, which appears to adjust the state of the WM content to optimize search behavior. These data illustrate the role of cognitive control in modulating the strength of WM biases of selection, and support a tight coupling between WM and attention.
Biased competition theory proposes that representations in working memory drive visual attention to select similar inputs. However, behavioral tests of this hypothesis have led to mixed results. These inconsistent findings could be due to the inability of behavioral measures to reliably detect the early, automatic effects on attentional deployment that the memory representations exert. Alternatively, executive mechanisms may govern how working memory representations influence attention based on higher-level goals. In the present study, we tested these hypotheses using the N2pc component of participants’ event-related potentials (ERPs) to directly measure the early deployments of covert attention. Participants searched for a target in an array that sometimes contained a memory-matching distractor. In Experiments 1–3, we manipulated the difficulty of the target discrimination and the proximity of distractors, but consistently observed that covert attention was deployed to the search targets and not the memory-matching distractors. In Experiment 4, we showed that when participants’ goal involved attending to memory-matching items that these items elicited a large and early N2pc. Our findings demonstrate that working memory representations alone are not sufficient to guide early deployments of visual attention to matching inputs and that goal-dependent executive control mediates the interactions between working memory representations and visual attention.
Event related potentials; Attention: Visual; Memory: Working memory; Executive functions
Previous studies have shown conflicting data as to whether it is possible to sequentially shift spatial attention among visual working memory (VWM) representations. The present study investigated this issue by asynchronously presenting attentional cues during the retention interval of a change detection task. In particular, we focused on two types of sequential attention shifts: (1) orienting attention to one location, and then withdrawing attention from it, and (2) switching the focus of attention from one location to another. In Experiment 1, a withdrawal cue was presented after a spatial retro-cue to measure the effect of withdrawing attention. The withdrawal cue significantly reduced the cost of invalid spatial cues, but surprisingly, did not attenuate the benefit of valid spatial cues. This indicates that the withdrawal cue only triggered the activation of facilitative components but not inhibitory components of attention. In Experiment 2, two spatial retro-cues were presented successively to examine the effect of switching the focus of attention. We observed equivalent benefits of the first and second spatial cues, suggesting that participants were able to reorient attention from one location to another within VWM, and the reallocation of attention did not attenuate memory at the first-cued location. In Experiment 3, we found that reducing the validity of the preceding spatial cue did lead to a significant reduction in its benefit. However, performance was still better at first-cued locations than at uncued and neutral locations, indicating that the first cue benefit might have been preserved both partially under automatic control and partially under voluntary control. Our findings revealed new properties of dynamic attentional control in VWM maintenance.
visual working memory; attention; sequential cueing; retro-cue; selective maintenance
In many theories of cognition, researchers propose that working memory and perception operate interactively. For example, in previous studies researchers have suggested that sensory inputs matching the contents of working memory will have an automatic advantage in the competition for processing resources. The authors tested this hypothesis by requiring observers to perform a visual search task while concurrently maintaining object representations in visual working memory. The hypothesis that working memory activation produces a simple but uncontrollable bias signal leads to the prediction that items matching the contents of working memory will automatically capture attention. However, no evidence for automatic attentional capture was obtained; instead, the participants avoided attending to these items. Thus, the contents of working memory can be used in a flexible manner for facilitation or inhibition of processing.
attention; working memory; visual search; capture
HIV infection is often associated with frontal systems pathology and related deficits in the strategic encoding and retrieval aspects of episodic memory. However, no prior HIV studies have explicitly examined source memory, which refers to recall of information regarding the context in which a declarative memory was formed. Source memory is heavily reliant upon frontal systems and strategic cognitive processes and is singly dissociable from the content of the memory (i.e., item memory), which is more dependent upon medial temporal systems and automatic processes. The present study examined item and source memory in 60 individuals with HIV infection and 35 demographically similar seronegative participants. The primary finding of interest was a significant HIV effect on source (but not item) memory for complex visual stimuli. Follow-up correlational analyses showed a significant association between visual source memory errors and impairment on measures of executive functions, working memory, and higher-level list learning encoding strategies. These findings extend the hypothesized profile of strategic encoding and retrieval deficits in HIV to the construct of source memory, which may be differentially affected relative to item memory for complex visual stimuli.
Human immunodeficiency virus; neuropsychological assessment; encoding; episodic memory; frontal lobe
The contents of working memory (WM) steer visual attention, but the extent of this guidance can be strategically enhanced or inhibited when WM content is reliably helpful or harmful to a visual task. Current understanding of the neural substrates mediating the cognitive control over WM biases is limited, however, by the correlational nature of functional MRI approaches. A recent fMRI study provided suggestive evidence for a functional lateralization of these control processes in posterior parietal cortex (PPC): activity in left PPC correlated with the presentation of WM cues that ought to be strategically enhanced to optimize performance, while activity in the right PPC correlated with the presentation of cues that ought to be inhibited to prevent detrimental attentional biases in a visual search. Here, we aimed to directly assess whether the left and right PPC are causally involved in the cognitive control of WM biases, and to clarify their precise functional contributions. We therefore applied 1Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to left and right PPC (and a vertex control site) prior to administering a behavioral task assessing WM biasing control functions. We observed that the perturbation of left PPC eliminated the strategic benefit of predictably helpful WM cueing, while the perturbation of right PPC amplified the cost of unpredictable detrimental WM cueing. Left and right PPC thus play distinct causal roles in WM-attention interactions: left PPC to maximize benefits, and right PPC to minimize costs, of internally maintained content on visual attention.
working memory; cognitive control; visual attention; parietal cortex
Recent psychophysical experiments have shown that working memory for visual surface features interacts with saccadic motor planning, even in tasks where the saccade target is unambiguously specified by spatial cues. Specifically, a match between a memorized color and the color of either the designated target or a distractor stimulus influences saccade target selection, saccade amplitudes, and latencies in a systematic fashion. To elucidate these effects, we present a dynamic neural field model in combination with new experimental data. The model captures the neural processes underlying visual perception, working memory, and saccade planning relevant to the psychophysical experiment. It consists of a low-level visual sensory representation that interacts with two separate pathways: a spatial pathway implementing spatial attention and saccade generation, and a surface feature pathway implementing color working memory and feature attention. Due to bidirectional coupling between visual working memory and feature attention in the model, the working memory content can indirectly exert an effect on perceptual processing in the low-level sensory representation. This in turn biases saccadic movement planning in the spatial pathway, allowing the model to quantitatively reproduce the observed interaction effects. The continuous coupling between representations in the model also implies that modulation should be bidirectional, and model simulations provide specific predictions for complementary effects of saccade target selection on visual working memory. These predictions were empirically confirmed in a new experiment: Memory for a sample color was biased toward the color of a task-irrelevant saccade target object, demonstrating the bidirectional coupling between visual working memory and perceptual processing.
visual working memory; saccadic eye movements; dynamic field model; visual attention; biased competition
It is unclear why and under what circumstances working memory (WM) and attention interact. Here, we apply the logic of the time-based resource-sharing (TBRS) model of WM (e.g., Barrouillet et al., 2004) to explore the mixed findings of a separate, but related, literature that studies the guidance of visual attention by WM contents. Specifically, we hypothesize that the linkage between WM representations and visual attention is governed by a time-shared cognitive resource that alternately refreshes internal (WM) and selects external (visual attention) information. If this were the case, WM content should guide visual attention (involuntarily), but only when there is time for it to be refreshed in an internal focus of attention. To provide an initial test for this hypothesis, we examined whether the amount of unoccupied time during a WM delay could impact the magnitude of attentional capture by WM contents. Participants were presented with a series of visual search trials while they maintained a WM cue for a delayed-recognition test. WM cues could coincide with the search target, a distracter, or neither. We varied both the number of searches to be performed, and the amount of available time to perform them. Slowing of visual search by a WM matching distracter—and facilitation by a matching target—were curtailed when the delay was filled with fast-paced (refreshing-preventing) search trials, as was subsequent memory probe accuracy. WM content may, therefore, only capture visual attention when it can be refreshed, suggesting that internal (WM) and external attention demands reciprocally impact one another because they share a limited resource. The TBRS rationale can thus be applied in a novel context to explain why WM contents capture attention, and under what conditions that effect should be observed.
working memory; attention; visual search; resource-sharing
Do words cue children’s visual attention, and if so, what are the relevant mechanisms? Across four experiments, 3-year-old children (N = 163) were tested in visual search tasks in which targets were cued with only a visual preview versus a visual preview and a spoken name. The experiments were designed to determine whether labels facilitated search times and to examine one route through which labels could have their effect: By influencing the visual working memory representation of the target. The targets and distractors were pictures of instances of basic-level known categories and the labels were the common name for the target category. We predicted that the label would enhance the visual working memory representation of the target object, guiding attention to objects that better matched the target representation. Experiments 1 and 2 used conjunctive search tasks, and Experiment 3 varied shape discriminability between targets and distractors. Experiment 4 compared the effects of labels to repeated presentations of the visual target, which should also influence the working memory representation of the target. The overall pattern fits contemporary theories of how the contents of visual working memory interact with visual search and attention, and shows that even in very young children heard words affect the processing of visual information.
A number of studies have demonstrated that the likelihood of a salient item capturing attention is dependent on the “attentional set” an individual employs in a given situation. The instantiation of an attentional set is often viewed as a strategic, voluntary process, relying on working memory systems that represent immediate task priorities. However, influential theories of attention and automaticity propose that goal-directed control can operate more or less automatically on the basis of longer-term task representations, a notion supported by a number of recent studies. Here, we provide evidence that longer-term contextual learning can rapidly and automatically influence the instantiation of a given attentional set. Observers learned associations between specific attentional sets and specific task-irrelevant background scenes during a training session, and in the ensuing test session simply reinstating particular scenes on a trial by trial basis biased observers to employ the associated attentional set. This directly influenced the magnitude of attentional capture, suggesting that memory for the context in which a task is performed can play an important role in the ability to instantiate a particular attentional set and overcome distraction by salient, task-irrelevant information.
Visual Attention; Selective Attention; Learning; Memory; Attentional Capture; Scenes; Context
The biased competition theory proposes that items matching the contents of visual working memory will automatically have an advantage in the competition for attention. However, evidence for an automatic effect has been mixed, perhaps because the memory-driven attentional bias can be overcome by top-down suppression. To test this hypothesis, the Pd component of the event-related potential waveform was used as a marker of attentional suppression. While observers maintained a color in working memory, task-irrelevant probe arrays were presented that contained an item matching the color being held in memory. We found that the memory-matching probe elicited a Pd component, indicating that it was being actively suppressed. This result suggests that sensory inputs matching the information being held in visual working memory are automatically detected and generate an “attend-to-me” signal, but this signal can be overridden by an active suppression mechanism to prevent the actual capture of attention.
visual working memory; attend-to-me signal; attentional suppression; event-related potential; Pd
Selective attention is often considered the “gateway” to visual working memory (VWM). However, the extent to which we can voluntarily control which of an object's features enter memory remains subject to debate. Recent research has converged on the concept of VWM as a limited commodity distributed between elements of a visual scene. Consequently, as memory load increases, the fidelity with which each visual feature is stored decreases. Here we used changes in recall precision to probe whether task-irrelevant features were encoded into VWM when individuals were asked to store specific feature dimensions. Recall precision for both color and orientation was significantly enhanced when task-irrelevant features were removed, but knowledge of which features would be probed provided no advantage over having to memorize both features of all items. Next, we assessed the effect an interpolated orientation-or color-matching task had on the resolution with which orientations in a memory array were stored. We found that the presence of orientation information in the second array disrupted memory of the first array. The cost to recall precision was identical whether the interfering features had to be remembered, attended to, or could be ignored. Therefore, it appears that storing, or merely attending to, one feature of an object is sufficient to promote automatic encoding of all its features, depleting VWM resources. However, the precision cost was abolished when the match task preceded the memory array. So, while encoding is automatic, maintenance is voluntary, allowing resources to be reallocated to store new visual information.
working memory; resources; attention; feature selectivity
Exogenous covert attention improves discriminability and accelerates the rate of visual information processing (M. Carrasco & B. McElree, 2001). Here we investigated and compared the effects of both endogenous (sustained) and exogenous (transient) covert attention. Specifically, we directed attention via spatial cues and evaluated the automaticity and flexibility of exogenous and endogenous attention by manipulating cue validity in conjunction with a response-signal speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT) procedure, which provides conjoint measures of discriminability and information accrual. To investigate whether discriminability and rate of information processing differ as a function of cue validity (chance to 100%), we compared how both types of attention affect performance while keeping experimental conditions constant. With endogenous attention, both the observed benefits (valid-cue) and the costs (invalid-cue) increased with cue validity. However, with exogenous attention, the benefits and costs in both discriminability and processing speed were similar across cue validity conditions. These results provide compelling time-course evidence that whereas endogenous attention can be flexibly allocated according to cue validity, exogenous attention is automatic and unaffected by cue validity.
covert attention; exogenous; endogenous; automaticity; flexibility
Information held in working memory (WM) can guide attention during visual search. The authors of recent studies have interpreted the effect of holding verbal labels in WM as guidance of visual attention by semantic information. In a series of experiments, we tested how attention is influenced by visual features versus category-level information about complex objects held in WM. Participants either memorized an object’s image or its category. While holding this information in memory, they searched for a target in a four-object search display. On exact-match trials, the memorized item reappeared as a distractor in the search display. On category-match trials, another exemplar of the memorized item appeared as a distractor. On neutral trials, none of the distractors were related to the memorized object. We found attentional guidance in visual search on both exact-match and category-match trials in Experiment 1, in which the exemplars were visually similar. When we controlled for visual similarity among the exemplars by using four possible exemplars (Exp. 2) or by using two exemplars rated as being visually dissimilar (Exp. 3), we found attentional guidance only on exact-match trials when participants memorized the object’s image. The same pattern of results held when the target was invariant (Exps. 2–3) and when the target was defined semantically and varied in visual features (Exp. 4). The findings of these experiments suggest that attentional guidance by WM requires active visual information.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.3758/s13414-013-0428-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Working memory; Attentional capture; Visual search
Working memory and attention are intimately connected. However, understanding the relationship between the two is challenging. Currently, there is an important controversy about whether objects in working memory are maintained automatically or require resources that are also deployed for visual or auditory attention. Here we investigated the effects of loading attention resources on precision of visual working memory, specifically on correct maintenance of feature-bound objects, using a dual-task paradigm. Participants were presented with a memory array and were asked to remember either direction of motion of random dot kinematograms of different colour, or orientation of coloured bars. During the maintenance period, they performed a secondary visual or auditory task, with varying levels of load. Following a retention period, they adjusted a coloured probe to match either the motion direction or orientation of stimuli with the same colour in the memory array. This allowed us to examine the effects of an attention-demanding task performed during maintenance on precision of recall on the concurrent working memory task. Systematic increase in attention load during maintenance resulted in a significant decrease in overall working memory performance. Changes in overall performance were specifically accompanied by an increase in feature misbinding errors: erroneous reporting of nontarget motion or orientation. Thus in trials where attention resources were taxed, participants were more likely to respond with nontarget values rather than simply making random responses. Our findings suggest that resources used during attention-demanding visual or auditory tasks also contribute to maintaining feature-bound representations in visual working memory—but not necessarily other aspects of working memory.
Visual working memory; Attention; Executive resources; Binding failures
Visual task performance is generally stronger in familiar environments. One reason for this familiarity benefit is that we learn where to direct our visual attention and effective attentional deployment enhances performance. Visual working memory plays a central role in supporting long-term memory guidance of visuospatial attention. We modified a change detection task to create a new paradigm for investigating long-term memory guidance of attention. During the training phase, subjects viewed images in a flicker paradigm and were asked to detect between one and three changes in the images. The test phase required subjects to detect a single change in a one-shot change detection task in which they held all possible locations of changes in visual working memory and deployed attention to those locations to determine if a change occurred. Subjects detected significantly more changes in images for which they had been trained to detect the changes, demonstrating that memory of the images guided subjects in deploying their attention. Moreover, capacity to detect changes was greater for images that had multiple changes during the training phase. In Experiment 2, we observed that capacity to detect changes for the 3-studied change condition increased significantly with more study exposures and capacity was significantly higher than 1, indicating that subjects were able to attend to more than one location. Together, these findings suggest memory and attentional systems interact via working memory such that long-term memory can be used to direct visual spatial attention to multiple locations based on previous experience.
visual attention; change detection; memory cueing; visual working memory
Maintaining a representation in working memory has been proposed to be sufficient for the execution of top-down attentional control. Two recent electrophysiological studies that recorded event-related potentials (ERP) during similar paradigms have tested this proposal, but reported contradictory findings. The goal of the present study was to reconcile these previous reports. To this end, we used the stimuli from one study (Kumar, Soto, & Humphreys, 2009) combined with the task manipulations used in the other (Carlisle & Woodman, 2011b). We found that when an item matching a working memory representation was presented in a visual search array, we could use ERPs to quantify the size of the covert attention effect. When the working memory matches were consistently task irrelevant, we observed a weak attentional bias to these items. However, when this same item indicated the location of the search target, we found that the covert attention effect was approximately four times larger. This shows that simply maintaining a representation in working memory is not equivalent to having a top-down attentional set for that item. Our findings indicate that high-level goals mediate the relationship between the contents of working memory and perceptual attention.
Recent research using change-detection tasks has shown that a directed-forgetting cue, indicating that a subset of the information stored in memory can be forgotten, significantly benefits the other information stored in visual working memory. How do these directed-forgetting cues aid the memory representations that are retained? We addressed this question in the present study by using a recall paradigm to measure the nature of the retained memory representations. Our results demonstrate that a directed-forgetting cue leads to higher fidelity representations of the remaining items and a lower probability of dropping these representations from memory. Next, we show that this is possible because the to-be-forgotten item is expelled from visual working memory following the cue allowing maintenance mechanisms to be focused on only the items that remain in visual working memory. Thus, the present findings show that cues to forget benefit the remaining information in visual working memory by fundamentally improving their quality relative to conditions in which just as many items are encoded but no cue is provided.
Researchers use a variety of behavioral tasks to analyze the effect of biological manipulations on memory function. This research will benefit from a systematic mathematical method for analyzing memory demands in behavioral tasks. In the framework of reinforcement learning theory, these tasks can be mathematically described as partially-observable Markov decision processes. While a wealth of evidence collected over the past 15 years relates the basal ganglia to the reinforcement learning framework, only recently has much attention been paid to including psychological concepts such as working memory or episodic memory in these models. This paper presents an analysis that provides a quantitative description of memory states sufficient for correct choices at specific decision points. Using information from the mathematical structure of the task descriptions, we derive measures that indicate whether working memory (for one or more cues) or episodic memory can provide strategically useful information to an agent. In particular, the analysis determines which observed states must be maintained in or retrieved from memory to perform these specific tasks. We demonstrate the analysis on three simplified tasks as well as eight more complex memory tasks drawn from the animal and human literature (two alternation tasks, two sequence disambiguation tasks, two non-matching tasks, the 2-back task, and the 1-2-AX task). The results of these analyses agree with results from quantitative simulations of the task reported in previous publications and provide simple indications of the memory demands of the tasks which can require far less computation than a full simulation of the task. This may provide a basis for a quantitative behavioral stoichiometry of memory tasks.
► Preparatory attention increases the probability that cued items enter VSTM. ► Markers of anticipatory attention were evident prior to VSTM encoding. ► ERP markers of anticipatory attention predicted attention-related increases in recall probability. ► There was no evidence that preparatory attention modulates the precision of VSTM encoding.
Visual short-term memory (VSTM) is limited in capacity. Therefore, it is important to encode only visual information that is most likely to be relevant to behaviour. Here we asked which aspects of selective biasing of VSTM encoding predict subsequent memory-based performance. We measured EEG during a selective VSTM encoding task, in which we varied parametrically the memory load and the precision of recall required to compare a remembered item to a subsequent probe item. On half the trials, a spatial cue indicated that participants only needed to encode items from one hemifield. We observed a typical sequence of markers of anticipatory spatial attention: early attention directing negativity (EDAN), anterior attention directing negativity (ADAN), late directing attention positivity (LDAP); as well as of VSTM maintenance: contralateral delay activity (CDA). We found that individual differences in preparatory brain activity (EDAN/ADAN) predicted cue-related changes in recall accuracy, indexed by memory-probe discrimination sensitivity (d′). Importantly, our parametric manipulation of memory-probe similarity also allowed us to model the behavioural data for each participant, providing estimates for the quality of the memory representation and the probability that an item could be retrieved. We found that selective encoding primarily increased the probability of accurate memory recall; that ERP markers of preparatory attention predicted the cue-related changes in recall probability.
Visual short term memory; Attention; Precision; EDAN; ADAN; CDA
Many cognitive processes depend on our ability to hold information in mind, often well beyond the offset of the original sensory input. The capacity of this ‘visual short-term memory’ (VSTM) is limited to around three to four items. Recent research has demonstrated that the content of VSTM can be modulated by top-down attentional biases. This has been demonstrated using retrodictive spatial cues, termed ‘retro-cues’, which orient participants’ attention to spatial locations within VSTM. In the current paper, we tested whether the use of these cues is modulated by memory load and cue delay. There are a number of important conclusions: i) top-down biases can operate upon very brief iconic traces as well as older VSTM representations (Experiment 1); ii) when operating within capacity, subjects use the cue to prioritize where they initiate their memory search, rather than to discard un-cued items (Experiments 2 and 3); iii) when capacity is exceeded there is little benefit to top-down biasing relative to a neutral condition, however, unattended items are lost, with there being a substantial cost of invalid spatial cueing (Experiment 3); iv) these costs and benefits of orienting spatial attention differ across iconic memory and VSTM representations when VSTM capacity is exceeded (Experiment 4).
VSTM; visual short-term memory; visual working memory; iconic memory; spatial attention; partial report
Working memory representations play a key role in controlling attention, making it possible to shift attention to task relevant objects. Visual working memory has a capacity of 3–4 objects, but recent studies suggest that only one representation can guide attention at a given moment. We directly tested this proposal by monitoring eye movements while observers searched for one or two different colors in arrays containing two or four different colors. First, we identified behavioral signatures of template use: When observers implemented a single color template, they sequentially searched many consecutive items of a color (long run lengths), and they exhibited a delay prior to switching gaze from one color to another (switch cost). In contrast, when searching two colors simultaneously, observers exhibited short run lengths and no switch costs, consistent with the simultaneous guidance of attention by the two cued colors. Thus, multiple working memory representations can guide attention concurrently.
Prior studies have shown that spatial attention modulates early visual cortex retinotopically, resulting in enhanced processing of external perceptual representations. However, it is not clear whether the same visual areas are modulated when attention is focused on, and shifted within a working memory representation. In the current fMRI study participants were asked to memorize an array containing four stimuli. After a delay, participants were presented with a verbal cue instructing them to actively maintain the location of one of the stimuli in working memory. Additionally, on a number of trials a second verbal cue instructed participants to switch attention to the location of another stimulus within the memorized representation. Results of the study showed that changes in the BOLD pattern closely followed the locus of attention within the working memory representation. A decrease in BOLD-activity (V1–V3) was observed at ROIs coding a memory location when participants switched away from this location, whereas an increase was observed when participants switched towards this location. Continuous increased activity was obtained at the memorized location when participants did not switch. This study shows that shifting attention within memory representations activates the earliest parts of visual cortex (including V1) in a retinotopic fashion. We conclude that even in the absence of visual stimulation, early visual areas support shifting of attention within memorized representations, similar to when attention is shifted in the outside world. The relationship between visual working memory and visual mental imagery is discussed in light of the current findings.
The mechanisms by which attentional control biases mnemonic representations have attracted much interest but remain poorly understood. As attention and memory develop gradually over childhood and variably across individuals, assessing how participants of different ages and ability attend to mnemonic contents can elucidate their interplay. In Experiment 1, 7-, 10-year-olds and adults were asked to report whether a probe item had been part of a previously presented four-item array. The initial array could either be uncued, preceded (“pre-cued”) or followed (“retro-cued”) by a spatial cue orienting attention to one of the potential item locations. Performance across groups was significantly improved by both cue types and individual differences in children’s retrospective attentional control predicted their visual short-term and working memory span, whereas their basic ability to remember in the absence of cues did not. Experiment 2 imposed a variable delay between the array and the subsequent orienting cue. Cueing benefits were greater in adults compared to 10-year-olds, but they persisted even when cues followed the array by nearly 3 seconds, suggesting that orienting operated on durable short-term representations for both age groups. The findings indicate that there are substantial developmental and individual differences in the ability to control attention to memory and that in turn these differences constrain visual short-term memory capacity.
Attentional control; visual short-term memory; development; individual differences
The biased competition model proposes that there is top-down directing of attention to a stimulus matching the contents of working memory (WM), even when the maintenance of a WM representation is detrimental to target relevant performance. Despite many studies elucidating that spatial WM guidance can be present early in the visual processing system, whether visual WM guidance also influences perceptual selection remains poorly understood. Here, we investigated the electrophysiological correlates of early guidance of attention by WM in humans. Participants were required to perform a visual search task while concurrently maintaining object representations in their visual WM. Behavioral results showed that response times (RTs) were longer when the distractor in the visual search task was held in WM. The earliest WM guidance effect was observed in the P1 component (90–130 ms), with match trials eliciting larger P1 amplitude than mismatch trials. A similar result was also found in the N1 component (160–200 ms). These P1 and N1 effects could not be attributed to bottom-up perceptual priming from the presentation of a memory cue, because there was no significant difference in early event-related potential (ERP) component when the cue was merely perceptually identified but not actively held in WM. Standardized Low Resolution Electrical Tomography Analysis (sLORETA) showed that the early WM guidance occurred in the occipital lobe and the N1-related activation occurred in the parietal gyrus. Time-frequency data suggested that alpha-band event-related spectral perturbation (ERSP) magnitudes increased under the match condition compared with the mismatch condition only when the cue was held in WM. In conclusion, the present study suggests that the reappearance of a stimulus held in WM enhanced activity in the occipital area. Subsequently, this initial capture of attention by WM could be inhibited by competing visual inputs through attention re-orientation, reflecting by the alpha-band rhythm.
working memory; biased competition model; event-related potential (ERP); sLORETA; alpha-band rhythm