Visual search remains efficient when visual working memory is full

G F Woodman, E K Vogel, S J Luck
Psychological Science 2001, 12 (3): 219-24
Many theories of attention have proposed that visual working memory plays an important role in visual search tasks. The present study examined the involvement of visual working memory in search using a dual-task paradigm in which participants performed a visual search task while maintaining no, two, or four objects in visual working memory. The presence of a working memory load added a constant delay to the visual search reaction times, irrespective of the number of items in the visual search array. That is, there was no change in the slope of the function relating reaction time to the number of items in the search array, indicating that the search process itself was not slowed by the memory load. Moreover, the search task did not substantially impair the maintenance of information in visual working memory. These results suggest that visual search requires minimal visual working memory resources, a conclusion that is inconsistent with theories that propose a close link between attention and working memory.

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