Precision requirements do not affect the allocation of visual working memory capacity

Xu He, Weiwei Zhang, Cuihong Li, Chunyan Guo
Brain Research 2015 March 30, 1602: 136-43
There has been a debate about whether allocation of visual working memory (VWM) capacity was flexible. One of the key points about this issue is whether complexity has an effect on the capacity, and one of the critical features of complex objects is higher requirements on the encoding precision than simple objects. Thus we investigated the influence of precision requirements on the allocation of VWM capacity resources, by comparing VWM capacity under different levels of sample-test similarity in a change-detection task. If the VWM capacity is limited by a fixed number of items, then the capacity should not be affected by precision requirements; however, if the capacity is allocated flexibly, then precision requirements should influence the capacity. Cowan's K and amplitude of contralateral delay activity (CDA) were used as behavioral and neurophysiological measures of VWM capacity, respectively. Cowan's K for high-precision discrimination was calculated on the basis of the accuracy of a small number of large-change trials inserted into high-precision blocks. This approach avoided the confounder of different test-phase difficulties between the low- and high-precision conditions and controlled for errors during the test phase. The results showed no effect of precision requirements on VWM capacity. However, analysis of the late positive component (LPC) amplitude indicated that higher precision requirements indeed caused more top-down control over VWM retention. These results support the hypothesis that VWM is limited by a fixed number of items.

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