Forgotten but not gone: Retro-cue costs and benefits in a double-cueing paradigm suggest multiple states in visual short-term memory

Dirk van Moorselaar, Christian N L Olivers, Jan Theeuwes, Victor A F Lamme, Ilja G Sligte
Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2015, 41 (6): 1755-63
Visual short-term memory (VSTM) performance is enhanced when the to-be-tested item is cued after encoding. This so-called retro-cue benefit is typically accompanied by a cost for the noncued items, suggesting that information is lost from VSTM upon presentation of a retrospective cue. Here we assessed whether noncued items can be restored to VSTM when made relevant again by a subsequent second cue. We presented either 1 or 2 consecutive retro-cues (80% valid) during the retention interval of a change-detection task. Relative to no cue, a valid cue increased VSTM capacity by 2 items, while an invalid cue decreased capacity by 2. Importantly, when a second, valid cue followed an invalid cue, capacity regained 2 items, so that performance was back on par. In addition, when the second cue was also invalid, there was no extra loss of information from VSTM, suggesting that those items that survived a first invalid cue, automatically also survived a second. We conclude that these results are in support of a very versatile VSTM system, in which memoranda adopt different representational states depending on whether they are deemed relevant now, in the future, or not at all. We discuss a neural model that is consistent with this conclusion.

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