A bilateral advantage in controlling access to visual short-term memory

Jessica L Holt, Jean-François Delvenne
Experimental Psychology 2014, 61 (2): 127-33
Recent research on visual short-term memory (VSTM) has revealed the existence of a bilateral field advantage (BFA--i.e., better memory when the items are distributed in the two visual fields than if they are presented in the same hemifield) for spatial location and bar orientation, but not for color (Delvenne, 2005; Umemoto, Drew, Ester, & Awh, 2010). Here, we investigated whether a BFA in VSTM is constrained by attentional selective processes. It has indeed been previously suggested that the BFA may be a general feature of selective attention (Alvarez & Cavanagh, 2005; Delvenne, 2005). Therefore, the present study examined whether VSTM for color benefits from bilateral presentation if attentional selective processes are particularly engaged. Participants completed a color change detection task whereby target stimuli were presented either across both hemifields or within one single hemifield. In order to engage attentional selective processes, some trials contained irrelevant stimuli that needed to be ignored. Targets were selected based on spatial locations (Experiment 1) or on a salient feature (Experiment 2). In both cases, the results revealed a BFA only when irrelevant stimuli were presented among the targets. Overall, the findings strongly suggest that attentional selective processes at encoding can constrain whether a BFA is observed in VSTM.

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