The precision of visual working memory is set by allocation of a shared resource

Paul M Bays, Raquel F G Catalao, Masud Husain
Journal of Vision 2009 September 9, 9 (10): 7.1-11
The mechanisms underlying visual working memory have recently become controversial. One account proposes a small number of memory "slots," each capable of storing a single visual object with fixed precision. A contrary view holds that working memory is a shared resource, with no upper limit on the number of items stored; instead, the more items that are held in memory, the less precisely each can be recalled. Recent findings from a color report task have been taken as crucial new evidence in favor of the slot model. However, while this task has previously been thought of as a simple test of memory for color, here we show that performance also critically depends on memory for location. When errors in memory are considered for both color and location, performance on this task is in fact well explained by the resource model. These results demonstrate that visual working memory consists of a common resource distributed dynamically across the visual scene, with no need to invoke an upper limit on the number of objects represented.

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