Retro-cue benefits in working memory without sustained focal attention

Laura Rerko, Alessandra S Souza, Klaus Oberauer
Memory & Cognition 2014, 42 (5): 712-28
In working memory (WM) tasks, performance can be boosted by directing attention to one memory object: When a retro-cue in the retention interval indicates which object will be tested, responding is faster and more accurate (the retro-cue benefit). We tested whether the retro-cue benefit in WM depends on sustained attention to the cued object by inserting an attention-demanding interruption task between the retro-cue and the memory test. In the first experiment, the interruption task required participants to shift their visual attention away from the cued representation and to a visual classification task on colors. In the second and third experiments, the interruption task required participants to shift their focal attention within WM: Attention was directed away from the cued representation by probing another representation from the memory array prior to probing the cued object. The retro-cue benefit was not attenuated by shifts of perceptual attention or by shifts of attention within WM. We concluded that sustained attention is not needed to maintain the cued representation in a state of heightened accessibility.

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