Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Visual Selective Attention Is Equally Functional for Individuals with Low and High Working Memory Capacity: Evidence from Accuracy and Eye Movements

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Visual Selective Attention Is Equally Functional for Individuals with Low and High Working Memory Capacity: Evidence from Accuracy and Eye Movements

Article excerpt

Published online: 9 January 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Selective attention and working memory capacity (WMC) are related constructs, but debate about the manner in which they are related remains active. One elegant explanation of variance in WMC is that the efficiency of filtering irrelevant information is the crucial determining factor, rather than differences in capacity per se. We examined this hypothesis by relating WMC (as measured by complex span tasks) to accuracy and eye movements during visual change detection tasks with different degrees of attentional filtering and allocation requirements. Our results did not indicate strong filtering differences between high- and low-WMC groups, and where differences were observed, they were counter to those predicted by the strongest attentional filtering hypothesis. Bayes factors indicated evidence favoring positive or null relationships between WMC and correct responses to unemphasized information, as well as between WMC and the time spent looking at unemphasized information. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that individual differences in storage capacity, not only filtering efficiency, underlie individual differences in working memory.

Keywords Attentional control . Eye movementsWorking memory . Visual short-term memory . Individual differences

Workingmemorycapacity(WMC),theabilitytoconcurrently store and process information, is strongly correlated with performance on a large range of cognitive tasks (Hutchison, 2007; Jarrold & Towse, 2006; Unsworth, Schrock, & Engle, 2004), scholastic achievements (Alloway, 2009), and com- mon cognitive failures (Unsworth, Brewer, & Spillers, 2012). Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain these relationships. Some have emphasized individual differ- ences in attentional abilities (Engle, Kane, & Tuholski, 1999; Kane, Conway, Hambrick, & Engle, 2007;Kaneetal.,2004), whereas others have emphasized individual differences in storage capacity (Chuderski, Taraday, Necka, & Smolen, 2012; Colom, Abad, Quiroga, Shih, & Flores-Mendoza, 2008; Cowan et al., 2005). Both types of theory aim to explain individual differences in a number of key phenomena in selective attention.

A compelling illustration of relationships between in- dividual differences in WMC and selective attention oc- curs in the cocktail party effect, or noticing one'sown name in a nearby conversation while engaged in a differ- ent conversation. Conway, Cowan, and Bunting (2001) had participants perform a dichotic listening task in which different streams of words were presented to each ear and the relevant stream had to be repeated aloud. Low-WMC individuals were found to notice their own name in the irrelevant stream much more frequently than high-WMC individuals, indicating a possible deficit in selective at- tention (Conway et al., 2001). When participants were asked instead to divide their attention between two streams and report immediately when they noticed their own name, high-WMC individuals reported hearing their own name more often than did low-WMC individuals, demonstrating that high WMC affords the flexibility either to focus attention to the exclusion of irrelevant information or, instead, to effectively divide attention between two relevant sources (Colflesh & Conway, 2007). High-WMC individuals thus seemed able to flex- ibly ignore irrelevant information or divide their attention between multiple sources of information, depending on what the situation called for.

However, relationships between effective selective at- tention and WMC are not always apparent in situations designed to evoke them, suggesting that boundary condi- tions for relationships between WMC and selective atten- tion still need to be clarified. For instance, irrelevant speech effects, the decline in memory performance when listening to irrelevant auditory stimuli, do not show con- sistent relationships with WMC as one might expect. …

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