A configural effect in visual short-term memory for features from different parts of an object

Jean-François Delvenne, Raymond Bruyer
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: QJEP 2006, 59 (9): 1567-80
Previous studies have shown that change detection performance is improved when the visual display holds features (e.g., a colour and an orientation) that are grouped into different parts of the same object compared to when they are all spatially separated (Xu, 2002a, 2002b). These findings indicate that visual short-term memory (VSTM) encoding can be "object based". Recently, however, it has been demonstrated that changing the orientation of an item could affect the spatial configuration of the display (Jiang, Chun, & Olson, 2004), which may have an important influence on change detection. The perceptual grouping of features into an object obviously reduces the amount of distinct spatial relations in a display and hence the complexity of the spatial configuration. In the present study, we ask whether the object-based encoding benefit observed in previous studies may reflect the use of configural coding rather than the outcome of a true object-based effect. The results show that when configural cues are removed, the object-based encoding benefit remains for features (i.e., colour and orientation) from different parts of an object, but is significantly reduced. These findings support the view that memory for features from different parts of an object can benefit from object-based encoding, but the use of configural coding significantly helps enlarge this effect.

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