Working memory, perceptual priming, and the perception of hierarchical forms: opposite effects of priming and working memory without memory refreshing

Jeong-Im Kim, Glyn W Humphreys
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2010, 72 (6): 1533-55
Previous research has shown that stimuli held in working memory (WM) can influence spatial attention. Using Navon stimuli, we explored whether and how items in WM affect the perception of visual targets at local and global levels in compound letters. Participants looked for a target letter presented at a local or global level while holding a regular block letter as a memory item. An effect of holding the target's identity in WM was found. When memory items and targets were the same, performance was better than in a neutral condition when the memory item did not appear in the hierarchical letter (a benefit from valid cuing). When the memory item matched the distractor in the hierarchical stimulus, performance was worse than in the neutral baseline (a cost on invalid trials). These effects were greatest when the WM cue matched the global level of the hierarchical stimulus, suggesting that WM biases attention to the global level of form. Interestingly, in a no-memory priming condition, target perception was faster in the invalid condition than in the neutral baseline, reversing the effect in the WM condition. A further control experiment ruled out the effects of WM being due to participants' refreshing their memory from the hierarchical stimulus display. The data show that information in WM biases the selection of hierarchical forms, whereas priming does not. Priming alters the perceptual processing of repeated stimuli without biasing attention.

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