Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Retro-Cue Benefits in Working Memory without Sustained Focal Attention

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Retro-Cue Benefits in Working Memory without Sustained Focal Attention

Article excerpt

Published online: 18 January 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In working memory (WM) tasks, performance can be boosted by directing attention to one memory object: When a retro-cue in the retention interval indicates which object will be tested, responding is faster and more accurate (the retro-cue benefit). We tested whether the retro-cue benefit in WM depends on sustained attention to the cued object by inserting an attention-demanding interruption task between the retro-cue and the memory test. In the first experiment, the interruption task required participants to shift their visual attention away from the cued representation and to a visual classification task on colors. In the second and third experiments, the interruption task required participants to shift their focal attention within WM: Attention was directed away from the cued representation by probing another representation from the memory array prior to probing the cued object. The retro-cue benefit was not attenuated by shifts of perceptual attention or by shifts of attention within WM. We concluded that sustained attention is not needed to maintain the cued representation in a state of heightened accessibility.

Keywords Working memory · Retro-cue · Attention · Bindings

When asked to briefly memorize an array of visual objects for a subsequent recognition test, performance is improved by pro- viding a cue that indicates the location of the object to be tested. This cueing benefit can be observed when the cue is provided prior to the presentation of the memory array, the so-called precue (Griffin & Nobre, 2003; Nobre et al., 2004; Posner, 1980; Schmidt, Vogel, Woodman, & Luck, 2002; Woodman, Vecera, & Luck, 2003). The cueing benefit is also observed when the cue is presented after the offset of the memory array, the so-called retro-cue (Griffin & Nobre, 2003; Hollingworth & Maxcey-Richard, 2013; Kuo, Stokes, & Nobre, 2012; Landman, Spekreijse, & Lamme, 2003; Lepsien & Nobre, 2007; Makovski & Jiang, 2007; Makovski, Sussman, & Jiang, 2008; Matsukura, Luck, & Vecera, 2007; Maxcey-Richard & Hollingworth, 2013; Nobre, Griffin, & Rao, 2008; Sligte, Scholte, & Lamme, 2008). Cueing improves accuracy by about 5 % to 15 % and speeds up reaction times by about 100-200 ms for cued trials, as compared to trials with a noninformative cue or without a cue (cf. Griffin & Nobre, 2003).

Most explanations of the retro-cueing benefit rest on the assumption that the retro-cue guides focused attention to the memory object in the cued location, and that focal attention persistently stays on that object until the time of testing, thereby keeping it in a state of heightened accessibility (e.g., Makovski & Jiang, 2007;Makovskietal.,2008;Matsukura& Hollingworth, 2011; Matsukura et al., 2007; Pertzov, Bays, Joseph, & Husain, 2013). A recent study by Hollingworth and Maxcey-Richard (2013) has called this assumption into ques- tion. They tested whether sustained visual attention is a pre- requisite for the retro-cue benefit. They presented two kinds of cues during the retention interval of visual recognition task: a noninformative cue (i.e., one that provided no information regarding the object to be tested) or a valid retro-cue. Additionally, on a subset of trials an interruption task was presented after the cue and prior to the probe array. The interruption was a visual-search task that required participants to search for a target stimulus among distractors. The retro-cue benefit for memory performance was not attenuated by the interruption task. This finding shows that shifting perceptual attention away from the retro-cued object does not change its privileged state in working memory (WM), and hence that sustained spatial attention to the retro-cued object is no prerequisite for the retro-cue benefit (Hollingworth & Maxcey-Richard, 2013).

Hollingworth and Maxcey-Richard (2013) established that the retro-cue benefit is robust against distraction of spatial attention. …

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