Temporal dynamics of encoding, storage, and reallocation of visual working memory

Paul M Bays, Nikos Gorgoraptis, Natalie Wee, Louise Marshall, Masud Husain
Journal of Vision 2011 September 12, 11 (10)
The process of encoding a visual scene into working memory has previously been studied using binary measures of recall. Here, we examine the temporal evolution of memory resolution, based on observers' ability to reproduce the orientations of objects presented in brief, masked displays. Recall precision was accurately described by the interaction of two independent constraints: an encoding limit that determines the maximum rate at which information can be transferred into memory and a separate storage limit that determines the maximum fidelity with which information can be maintained. Recall variability decreased incrementally with time, consistent with a parallel encoding process in which visual information from multiple objects accumulates simultaneously in working memory. No evidence was observed for a limit on the number of items stored. Cuing one display item with a brief flash led to rapid development of a recall advantage for that item. This advantage was short-lived if the cue was simply a salient visual event but was maintained if it indicated an object of particular relevance to the task. These cuing effects were observed even for items that had already been encoded into memory, indicating that limited memory resources can be rapidly reallocated to prioritize salient or goal-relevant information.

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