Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Motor and Visual Codes Interact to Facilitate Visuospatial Memory Performance

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Motor and Visual Codes Interact to Facilitate Visuospatial Memory Performance

Article excerpt

The spatial working memory system constantly updates spatial representations and many studies have focused on the underlying principles of the encoding and maintenance of visual information. Here we investigated the question of how the production of actions influences spatial working memory. Participants were given a task that required concurrent maintenance of two spatial arrays, one encoded by visual observation accompanied with pointing movements, the other by only visual observation. Across two experiments, movement during encoding was found to facilitate recognition of spatial arrays in a load-dependent manner. The results suggest an action-based encoding principle within the working memory system, and possible underlying action-related mechanisms are discussed.

The fovea, the portion of the retina from which we extract detailed visual information, subtends only a small portion of our visual field. The small size of the fovea is the reason humans make over 150,000 saccadic eye movements each waking day-the information we glean at each fixation is so limited that we must constantly move our eyes from object to object in order to keep an updated spatial representation of our environment. The building and maintenance of this constantly updated spatial representation is the purview of the spatial working memory system.

Most studies examining the operation of the spatial working memory system have focused on the encoding and maintenance of visual information. Typical tasks involve the recall of some aspect of a spatial array which was first presented then removed from view (see, e.g., Luck & Vogel, 1997). In these tasks, perception plays the important role of regulating the information that reaches our spatial working memory system. Ultimately though, a major role of perception is to provide information to the various actions systems. In other words, perception underlies action (see, e.g., Schneider, 1995; for some recent experimental evidence, see Hannus, Cornelissen, Lindemann, & Bekkering, 2005).

The reverse can be true as well, in that action can influence perception. The selection-for-action hypothesis (Airport, 1989) proposes that we pay attention only to features in the environment that are relevant toward a certain intended action. For instance, it has been found that people selectively target their first saccadic eye movement in relation to their action intention. If the instruction was to grasp the target, orientation was processed at an enhanced level compared to the condition where observers had to point at the target (Bekkering & Neggers, 2002; Hannus et al., 2005). Within the realm of spatial cognition, it has been suggested that preparing pointing movements toward a specific cue or object results in our perceiving that object in a more spatially oriented perceptual framework (Fischer & Hoellen, 2004).

It is evident, therefore, that the relationship between perception, action, and the intervening cognitive processes are quite complex, even within the confines of spatial working memory. Thus, to investigate the seemingly simple question of how pointing influences spatial working memory requires an understanding of how perception and action interact to influence the formation and maintenance of spatial representations; something that is not at all that simple.

It is worth noting that the few studies that have examined the effect of various actions on working memory have found that intervening actions tend to disrupt memory performance. For example, Hale, Myerson, Rhee, Weiss, and Abrams (1996) and Lawrence, Myerson, Oonk, and Abrams (2001), reported that actions produced during the retention phase of a spatial working memory task decreased memory performance. The disruptive influence of these intervening (as they occurred between encoding and recall) actions occurred for limb movements alone (Lawrence et al.), saccadic movements alone (Hale et al.), and conjoined limb and eye movements (Hale et al. …

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