Spatio-temporal working-memory and short-term object-location tasks use different memory mechanisms

Hubert D Zimmer, Harry R Speiser, Beate Seidler
Acta Psychologica 2003, 114 (1): 41-65
Spatial short-term memory for objects' locations was investigated in a spatial relocation task. During maintenance, dynamic visual noise or spatial tapping were administered as visual or spatial secondary tasks, respectively. Because memory for location should tap the visual component of working memory, a visual but not a spatial secondary task should impair location memory. In fact, neither of the tasks impaired memory (Experiment 1), although the expected dissociation between visual and spatial components was clearly confirmed for a spatio-temporal main task (Corsi test) (Experiment 2). We then contrasted location memory for pictures of objects and of nonsense figures under visual interference. Real objects were relocated much better than nonsense figures, and visual noise was again ineffective (Experiment 3). When spatial tapping was combined with the same material (Experiment 3a), again no influence on memory for locations of objects was observed and only a small influence on remembering nonsense figures. We suggest that the Corsi and the relocation VSWM-tasks use different memory mechanisms. The configuration of objects is reconstructed from perceptual records in an episodic buffer, provided by the same structures that enable visual memory after longer intervals. Rehearsal is not necessary for the persistence of these traces. In contrast, in the Corsi task remembering, a temporal sequence across homogeneous locations needs spatio-temporal marking and therefore active rehearsal of the locations by shifting spatial attention. A spatially demanding secondary task during retention interrupts this rehearsal.

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