Do working memory-driven attention shifts speed up visual awareness?

Yi Pan, Qiu-Ping Cheng
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2011, 73 (8): 2425-33
Previous research has shown that content representations in working memory (WM) can bias attention in favor of matching stimuli in the scene. Using a visual prior-entry procedure, we here investigate whether such WM-driven attention shifts can speed up the conscious awareness of memory-matching relative to memory-mismatching stimuli. Participants were asked to hold a color cue in WM and to subsequently perform a temporal order judgment (TOJ) task by reporting either of two different-colored circles (presented to the left and right of fixation with a variable temporal interval) as having the first onset. One of the two TOJ circles could match the memory cue in color. We found that awareness of the temporal order of the circle onsets was not affected by the contents of WM, even when participants were explicitly informed that one of the TOJ circles would always match the WM contents. The null effect of WM on TOJs was not due to an inability of the memory-matching item to capture attention, since response times to the target in a follow-up experiment were improved when it appeared at the location of the memory-matching item. The present findings suggest that WM-driven attention shifts cannot accelerate phenomenal awareness of matching stimuli in the visual field.

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