Does high memory load kick task-irrelevant information out of visual working memory?

Jun Yin, Jifan Zhou, Haokui Xu, Junying Liang, Zaifeng Gao, Mowei Shen
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2012, 19 (2): 218-24
The limited capacity of visual working memory (VWM) requires the existence of an efficient information selection mechanism. While it has been shown that under low VWM load, an irrelevant simple feature can be processed, its fate under high load (e.g., six objects) remains unclear. We explored this issue by probing the "irrelevant-change distracting effect," in which the change of a stored irrelevant feature affects performance. Simple colored shapes were used as stimuli, with color as the target. Using a whole-probe method (presenting six objects in both the memory and test arrays), in Experiment 1 we found that a change to one of the six shapes led to a significant distracting effect. Using a partial-probe method (presenting the probe either at the screen center or at a location selected from the memory array), in Experiment 2 we showed the distracting effect again. These results suggest that irrelevant simple features can be stored into VWM, regardless of memory load.

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