Working-memory capacity predicts the executive control of visual search among distractors: the influences of sustained and selective attention

Bradley J Poole, Michael J Kane
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: QJEP 2009, 62 (7): 1430-54
Variation in working-memory capacity (WMC) predicts individual differences in only some attention-control capabilities. Whereas higher WMC subjects outperform lower WMC subjects in tasks requiring the restraint of prepotent but inappropriate responses, and the constraint of attentional focus to target stimuli against distractors, they do not differ in prototypical visual-search tasks, even those that yield steep search slopes and engender top-down control. The present three experiments tested whether WMC, as measured by complex memory span tasks, would predict search latencies when the 1-8 target locations to be searched appeared alone, versus appearing among distractor locations to be ignored, with the latter requiring selective attentional focus. Subjects viewed target-location cues and then fixated on those locations over either long (1,500-1,550 ms) or short (300 ms) delays. Higher WMC subjects identified targets faster than did lower WMC subjects only in the presence of distractors and only over long fixation delays. WMC thus appears to affect subjects' ability to maintain a constrained attentional focus over time.

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