Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

What We Remember Affects How We See: Spatial Working Memory Steers Saccade Programming

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

What We Remember Affects How We See: Spatial Working Memory Steers Saccade Programming

Article excerpt

Published online: 24 October 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Relationships between visual attention, saccade programming, and visual working memory have been hypothesized for over a decade. Awh, Jonides, and Reuter- Lorenz (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 24(3):780-90, 1998) and Awh et al. (Psychological Science 10(5):433-437, 1999) proposed that rehearsing a location in memory also leads to enhanced attentional processing at that location. In regard to eye movements, Belopolsky and Theeuwes (Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 71(3):620-631, 2009) found that holding a location in working memory affects saccade programming, albeit negatively. In three experiments, we attempted to replicate the findings of Belopolsky and Theeuwes (Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 71 (3):620-631, 2009) and determine whether the spatial memory effect can occur in other saccade-cuing paradigms, including endogenous central arrow cues and exogenous irrelevant singletons. In the first experiment, our results were the opposite of those in Belopolsky and Theeuwes (Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 71(3):620-631, 2009), in that we found facilitation (shorter saccade latencies) instead of inhibition when the saccade target matched the region in spatial working memory. In Experiment 2, we sought to determine whether the spatial working memory effect would generalize to other endogenous cuing tasks, such as a central arrow that pointed to one of six possible peripheral locations. As in Experiment 1, we found that saccade programming was facilitated when the cued location coincided with the saccade target. In Experiment 3, we explored how spatial memory interacts with other types of cues, such as a peripheral color singleton target or irrelevant onset. In both cases, the eyes were more likely to go to either singleton when it coincided with the location held in spatial working memory. On the basis of these results, we conclude that spatial working memory and saccade programming are likely to share common overlapping circuitry.

Keywords Attention and memory . Eye movements and visual attention

Visual attention, saccade programming, and visual working memory are all important areas of visual cognition that have been studied mostly in isolation, since each system has a different but related goal. Covert attention is the neural enhancement of perceptual processing due to tuning of the neural circuitry (Treue, 2001), whereas the enhanced processing fromovert attention (eyemovements) is due to shifting the eyes toward the object of interest. Overt attention also leads to enhanced neural processing, but this is a side effect of centering the object of interest on high-resolution foveal vision, as well as cortical magnification. Finally, visual working memory, unlike covert perceptual attention, is concerned with paying attention to internal, rather than external, representations (Cowan, 1995). There is strong evidence that these areas of the visual system overlap, however. By studying how the processes interact with each other, knowledge is uncovered about vision as a whole.

Some of the strongest evidence for a relationship between these systems is with covert visual attention and eye movements (Corbetta, 1998; Rizzolatti, Riggio, Dascola, & Umiltà, 1987). Eye movements can be classified as voluntary or involuntary, with voluntary eye movements made in support of a task (e.g., saccades to a search target) and involuntary saccades made to an extraneous, task-irrelevant location. In support of theories proposing overlapping covert attention and saccade programming systems, research has shown that both voluntary and involuntary eye movements are preceded by a shiftof attention to the saccade target. Additionally, when a saccade is cued to a particular location and then a target is displayed there as well, the target object is processed more quickly. This has been demonstrated for both voluntary (Deubel & Schneider, 1996; Hoffman & Subramaniam, 1995) and involuntary (Peterson, Kramer, & Irwin, 2004) saccades, suggesting that the planning of an eye movement leads to the automatic shiftof covert attention to the saccade destination prior to saccade execution. …

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