Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Irrelevant Picture Effect in Visuo-Spatial Working Memory: Fact or Fiction?

Academic journal article Psychologische Beiträge

The Irrelevant Picture Effect in Visuo-Spatial Working Memory: Fact or Fiction?

Article excerpt


In the beginning we provide a selective review of tasks which are used in experiments on visuo-spatial working memory, and we demonstrate that these tasks are not equivalent in their cognitive requirements. Differences exist in the information that is available in the environment in support of a task solution, in the necessity of rehearsal, and in the contribution of long-term memory to performances. We then report six experiments in which it was investigated to what extent performances in such tasks are impaired by visual input during retention. In Experiments 1 and la, subjects reconstructed patterns of black cells in a 4 x 4 grid. The retention interval was empty or it was filled with visual noise (a randomly filled checkerboard that was changed at a high rate). Visual noise did not impair memory. In Experiment 2, the same result was observed with an encoding time of only Is for the to be remembered stimulus. In Experiment 3 and 3a, the pegword mnemonic was used, and visual noise was either absent, present concurrently, or present during retention. No interference was observed. Experiment 4 had the same design but now an attended secondary task was realized. The secondary task stimulus was a matrix with four colored cells, and subjects were required to judge whether a color was repeated within the grid. Only the concurrent color matching task impaired memory. We discuss these results in the context of the task requirements of the different paradigms, and we especially regard the contribution of rehearsal to remembering.

Key words: visual short-term memory, visual working memory, pattern reconstruction, Corsi test, pegword mnemonic

The tripartite model of working memory is based on the suggestions from Baddeley and Hitch (1974) who recommended distinguishing three components within working memory: a central executive (CE), a phonological loop (PL) and a visuo-spatial sketchpad pad (VSSP) -- for an actual version of the model's assumptions cf. Baddeley and Logie (1999). The model provoked a huge number of experimental studies on short-term memory. The PL attracted the most attention, and was followed, at a distance, by VSSP and CE. The consistency of the obtained results follows the same order. Most of the results from the PL are in substantial agreement with the predictions of the model. Those on the VSSP and the CE are more heterogeneous and inconsistent.

Reasons for this imbalance are probably differences in the used experimental paradigms. In experiments on the PL, nearly exclusively serial recall of words was used as experimental task. if different methods were applied, the results were also different (e.g. Mohr, 1996). In contrast to the rather unique task of the verbal working memory, a variety of tasks was used to investigate the VSSP. Among them are the Brooks matrix task (e.g., Baddeley & Lieberman, 1980; Toms, Morris & Foley, 1994), the Corsi block test (e.g., Kemps, 1999; Smyth & Scholey, 1994), the pegword mnemonic (e.g., Logic, 1986; Quinn & McConnell, 1996a), the pattern span task (e.g., Logic & Pearson, 1997), color recognition (e.g., Logic & Marchetti, 1991; Rodenbusch, 1997), spatial reconstruction (e.g., Postma & deHaan, 1996; Zimmer & Speiser, 2002), or an SI-S2 paradigm for spatial and object memory (e.g., Mecklinger & Pfeifer, 1996; Mecklinger, 2000).

However, not only were different paradigms used for investigating the VSSP, but even the temporal characteristics of the memory tasks differed strongly as well. For example, in four experiments in the SI-S2 paradigm, completely different time schedules were realized. Luck and Vogel (1997) presented SI - four geometrical figures within one picture - for 100 ms, 900 ms later S2 followed, and the target was visible for 2,000 ms. Logic and Marchetti (1991) presented six dots sequentially at different positions, each for 1,000 ms, and after a retention interval of 10,000 ms the sequence was presented for comparison again. …

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