Orienting attention to objects in visual short-term memory

Roberto Dell'Acqua, Paola Sessa, Paolo Toffanin, Roy Luria, Pierre Jolicoeur
Neuropsychologia 2010, 48 (2): 419-28
We measured electroencephalographic activity during visual search of a target object among objects available to perception or among objects held in visual short-term memory (VSTM). For perceptual search, a single shape was shown first (pre-cue) followed by a search-array, and the task was to decide whether the pre-cue was or was not in the search-array. For search of VSTM, a search-array was shown first followed by a single shape (post-cue), and the task was to decide whether the post-cue was or was not in the previously displayed search-array. We focused on early lateralized electrical brain activity over posterior and temporal areas time-locked to search-arrays in pre-cue trials and to post-cues in post-cue trials. In Experiment 1, search-arrays were composed of two lateralized shapes, displayed in the upper/lower two quadrants of the monitor. In Experiment 2, search-arrays were composed of four shapes, displayed at the corners of an imaginary square centered on fixation. In pre-cue trials, we observed an N2pc of about equal amplitude and latency for search-arrays composed of two or four shapes. In post-cue trials, we observed N2pc-like activity with search-arrays composed of two shapes, that was however substantially attenuated with search-arrays composed of four shapes. For many aspects, attending to a perceptual object was functionally and neurally analogous to attending to an object held in VSTM, suggesting that spatial selective attention biases search of objects during both ongoing perception and retention.

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