Competition increases binding errors in visual working memory

Stephen M Emrich, Susanne Ferber
Journal of Vision 2012, 12 (4)
When faced with maintaining multiple objects in visual working memory, item information must be bound to the correct object in order to be correctly recalled. Sometimes, however, binding errors occur, and participants report the feature (e.g., color) of an unprobed, non-target item. In the present study, we examine whether the configuration of sample stimuli affects the proportion of these binding errors. The results demonstrate that participants mistakenly report the identity of the unprobed item (i.e., they make a non-target response) when sample items are presented close together in space, suggesting that binding errors can increase independent of increases in memory load. Moreover, the proportion of these non-target responses is linearly related to the distance between sample items, suggesting that these errors are spatially specific. Finally, presenting sample items sequentially decreases non-target responses, suggesting that reducing competition between sample stimuli reduces the number of binding errors. Importantly, these effects all occurred without increases in the amount of error in the memory representation. These results suggest that competition during encoding can account for some of the binding errors made during VWM recall.

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