Attentional guidance by working memory differs by paradigm: an individual-differences approach

Emma Wu Dowd, Anastasia Kiyonaga, Tobias Egner, Stephen R Mitroff
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2015, 77 (3): 704-12
The contents of working memory (WM) have been repeatedly found to guide the allocation of visual attention; in a dual-task paradigm that combines WM and visual search, actively holding an item in WM biases visual attention towards memory-matching items during search (e.g., Soto et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 31(2), 248-261, 2005). A key debate is whether such memory-based attentional guidance is automatic or under strategic control. Generally, two distinct task paradigms have been employed to assess memory-based guidance, one demonstrating that attention is involuntarily captured by memory-matching stimuli even at a cost to search performance (Soto et al., 2005), and one demonstrating that participants can strategically avoid memory-matching distractors to facilitate search performance (Woodman & Luck, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33(2), 363-377, 2007). The current study utilized an individual-differences approach to examine why the different paradigms--which presumably tap into the same attentional construct--might support contrasting interpretations. Participants completed a battery of cognitive tasks, including two types of attentional guidance paradigms (see Soto et al., 2005; Woodman & Luck, 2007), a visual WM task, and an operation span task, as well as attention-related self-report assessments. Performance on the two attentional guidance paradigms did not correlate. Subsequent exploratory regression analyses revealed that memory-based guidance in each task was differentially predicted by visual WM capacity for one paradigm, and by attention-related assessment scores for the other paradigm. The current results suggest that these two paradigms--which have previously produced contrasting patterns of performance--may probe distinct aspects of attentional guidance.

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