Distractor devaluation requires visual working memory

Brian A Goolsby, Kimron L Shapiro, Jane E Raymond
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2009, 16 (1): 133-8
Visual stimuli seen previously as distractors in a visual search task are subsequently evaluated more negatively than those seen as targets. An attentional inhibition account for this distractor-devaluation effect posits that associative links between attentional inhibition and to-be-ignored stimuli are established during search, stored, and then later reinstantiated, implying that distractor devaluation may require visual working memory (WM) resources. To assess this, we measured distractor devaluation with and without a concurrent visual WM load. Participants viewed a memory array, performed a simple search task, evaluated one of the search items (or a novel item), and then viewed a memory test array. Although distractor devaluation was observed with low (and no) WM load, it was absent when WM load was increased. This result supports the notions that active association of current attentional states with stimuli requires WM and that memory for these associations plays a role in affective response.

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