Task-based working memory guidance of visual attention

Zhe Chen, Brian H Tsou
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2011, 73 (4): 1082-95
Previous research has established that holding a stimulus in working memory (WM) facilitates the deployment of visual attention to that stimulus relative to other stimuli. The present study examined whether maintaining a specific task in WM would also bias the allocation of attention to the stimuli associated with that task. Participants performed a speeded letter search task while simultaneously keeping in WM one of two task cues shown at the beginning of each trial. The results showed that task-based WM guidance of attention was modulated by response latencies. Whereas the participants with fast reaction times showed little influence of WM contents, the participants with slow reaction times took longer to respond when the letter target appeared in a distractor stimulus consistent with the task cue held in mind. A subsequent Stroop experiment found a larger Stroop interference effect from the participants in the slow group compared with those in the fast group, suggesting that the differential WM effect between the two groups may be associated with an individual's ability to inhibit task-irrelevant information. Taken together, these results expanded the realm of previous research and provided further evidence for a close link between attention and WM.

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