Refreshing memory traces: thinking of an item improves retrieval from visual working memory

Alessandra S Souza, Laura Rerko, Klaus Oberauer
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2015, 1339: 20-31
This article provides evidence that refreshing, a hypothetical attention-based process operating in working memory (WM), improves the accessibility of visual representations for recall. "Thinking of", one of several concurrently active representations, is assumed to refresh its trace in WM, protecting the representation from being forgotten. The link between refreshing and WM performance, however, has only been tenuously supported by empirical evidence. Here, we controlled which and how often individual items were refreshed in a color reconstruction task by presenting cues prompting participants to think of specific WM items during the retention interval. We show that the frequency with which an item is refreshed improves recall of this item from visual WM. Our study establishes a role of refreshing in recall from visual WM and provides a new method for studying the impact of refreshing on the amount of information we can keep accessible for ongoing cognition.

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