Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Privileged Role of Location in Visual Working Memory

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Privileged Role of Location in Visual Working Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 13 September 2013

# The Author(s) 2013. This article is published with open access at

Abstract Reports have conflicted about the possible special role of location in visual working memory (WM). One important question is: Do we maintain the locations of objects in WM even when they are irrelevant to the task at hand? Here we used a continuous response scale to study the types of reporting errors that participants make when objects are presented at the same or at different locations in space. When several objects successively shared the same location, participants exhibited a higher tendency to report features of the wrong object in memory; that is, they responded with features that belonged to objects retained in memory but not probed at retrieval. On the other hand, a similar effect was not observed when objects shared a nonspatial feature, such as color. Furthermore, the effect of location on reporting errors was present even when its manipulation was orthogonal to the task at hand. These findings are consistent with the view that binding together different nonspatial features of an object in memory might be mediated through an object's location. Hence, spatial location may have a privileged role in WM. The relevance of these findings to conceptual models, as well as to neural accounts of visual WM, is discussed.

Keywords Visual working memory . Short-term memory . Visual perception . Binding . Position

Numerous studies have shown that spatial location has a unique role in visual perception. For example, when partici- pants are asked to report the location and shape of items specified by their color, correct shape responses are contingent on correct localizations (Nissen, 1985). Another line of studies has shown that participants are more likely to report items that are spatially close to a precued target than to report items that are similar in other dimensions (e.g., color and shape), leading to the conclusion that selective processing of targets specified by different features is accomplished by attending to target location (Snyder, 1972; Tsal & Lavie, 1988, 1993). The spe- cial role of spatial location in visual perception and selective attention has been further established using a range of differ- ent paradigms (e.g., Johnston & Pashler, 1990;Kwak& Egeth, 1992; Sagi & Julesz, 1985).

Recent research on visual working memory (WM), includ- ing other work in this special issue, has focused on the structure of representations within visual WM. A critical question is whether location has a special role in visual WM, as well as in perception and attention? According to one view, objectsinmemoryaremaintained in a few independent "slots" (Luck & Vogel, 1997) that can be maintained in an abstract manner, divorced from the way that visual informa- tion was originally perceived (Woodman, Vogel, & Luck, 2012). This conclusion suggests that the special role of loca- tion might be critical only at the perceptual stage, but not when memory processes are involved.

Woodman et al. (2012) used a change detection task in which a brief sample array of several colored rectangles was followed, after a short delay, by a test array that either was identical to the sample or differed in one of the objects. Scrambling the locations of objects between the sample and test displays did not lead to a significant decrease in perfor- mance, leading the authors to conclude that the representa- tions of objects in visual WM are independent of each other and, crucially, are not tightly bound to either absolute or relative locations (Woodman et al., 2012).

However, other studies using very similar approaches have reported impaired change detection performance when the task- irrelevant spatial configuration of objects changed from the sample to the test arrays (Hollingworth, 2007; Hollingworth & Rasmussen, 2010; Jiang, Olson, & Chun, 2000;Olson & Marshuetz, 2005;Treisman&Zhang,2006), especially following short delays (Logie, Brockmole, & Jaswal, 2011). …

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