Working memory enhances visual perception: evidence from signal detection analysis

David Soto, Alice Wriglesworth, Alex Bahrami-Balani, Glyn W Humphreys
Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2010, 36 (2): 441-56
We show that perceptual sensitivity to visual stimuli can be modulated by matches between the contents of working memory (WM) and stimuli in the visual field. Observers were presented with an object cue (to hold in WM or to merely attend) and subsequently had to identify a brief target presented within a colored shape. The cue could be re-presented in the display, where it surrounded either the target (on valid trials) or a distractor (on invalid trials). Perceptual identification of the target, as indexed by A', was enhanced on valid relative to invalid trials but only when the cue was kept in WM. There was minimal effect of the cue when it was merely attended and not kept in WM. Verbal cues were as effective as visual cues at modulating perceptual identification, and the effects were independent of the effects of target saliency. Matches to the contents of WM influenced perceptual sensitivity even under conditions that minimized competition for selecting the target. WM cues were also effective when targets were less likely to fall in a repeated WM stimulus than in other stimuli in the search display. There were no effects of WM on decisional criteria, in contrast to sensitivity. The findings suggest that reentrant feedback from WM can affect early stages of perceptual processing.

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