Awareness is necessary for extracting patterns in working memory but not for directing spatial attention

Po-Jang Hsieh, Jaron T Colas
Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 2012, 38 (5): 1085-90
The contents of working memory (WM) have predominantly been viewed as necessarily conscious. However, recent findings suggest otherwise. Here we investigate whether visual WM can represent subliminal stimuli, such that the positions of an invisible moving object can be extrapolated or learned about in terms of their task-relevant predictive power. We presented a moving cue subliminally and measured subjects' performance on an orientation-discrimination task at the naturally anticipated location on the cue's trajectory and at variably predictable off-trajectory locations. Our data show that orientation discriminability at the on-trajectory location was not significantly different from that at a nearby off-trajectory location. However, orientation discriminability at locations near the final position of the cue was significantly better than that at distal locations. This finding suggests that a moving object can still attract attention when presented subliminally. In contrast, the dynamic trajectory of the object and its task-relevant predictive patterns may not be monitored and maintained in visual WM.

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