The capacity of visual short-term memory within and between hemifields

Jean-François Delvenne
Cognition 2005, 96 (3): B79-88
Visual short-term memory (VSTM) and attention are both thought to have a capacity limit of four items [e.g. Luck, S. J., & Vogel, E. K. (1997). The capacity of visual working memory for features and conjunctions. Nature, 309, 279-281; Pylyshyn, Z. W., & Storm, R. W. (1988). Tracking multiple independent targets: evidence for a parallel tracking mechanism. Spatial Vision, 3, 179-197.]. Using the multiple object visual tracking paradigm (MOT), it has recently been shown that twice as many items can be simultaneously attended when they are separated between two visual fields compared to when they are all presented within the same hemifield [Alvarez, G. A., & Cavanagh, P. (2004). Independent attention resources for the left and right visual hemifields (Abstract). Journal of Vision, 4(8), 29a.]. Does VSTM capacity also increase when the items to be remembered are distributed between the two visual fields? The current paper investigated this central issue in two different tasks, namely a color and spatial location change detection task, in which the items were displayed either in the two visual fields or in the same hemifield. The data revealed that only memory capacity for spatial locations and not colors increased when the items were separated between the two visual fields. These findings support the view of VSTM as a chain of capacity limited operations where the spatial selection of stimuli, which dominates in both spatial location VSTM and MOT, occupies the first place and shows independence between the two fields.

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