Finding memory in search: the effect of visual working memory load on visual search

Stephen M Emrich, Naseem Al-Aidroos, Jay Pratt, Susanne Ferber
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: QJEP 2010, 63 (8): 1457-66
There is now substantial evidence that during visual search, previously searched distractors are stored in memory to prevent them from being reselected. Studies examining which memory resources are involved in this process have indicated that while a concurrent spatial working memory task does affect search slopes, depleting visual working memory (VWM) resources does not. In the present study, we confirm that VWM load indeed has no effect on the search slope; however, there is an increase in overall reaction times that is directly related to the number of items held in VWM. Importantly, this effect on search time increases proportionally with the memory load until the capacity of VWM is reached. Furthermore, the search task interfered with the number of items stored in VWM during the concurrent change-detection task. These findings suggest that VWM plays a role in the inhibition of previously searched distractors.

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