Contralateral delay activity tracks the influence of Gestalt grouping principles on active visual working memory representations

Dwight J Peterson, Filiz Gözenman, Hector Arciniega, Marian E Berryhill
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2015, 77 (7): 2270-83
Recent studies have demonstrated that factors influencing perception, such as Gestalt grouping cues, can influence the storage of information in visual working memory (VWM). In some cases, stationary cues, such as stimulus similarity, lead to superior VWM performance. However, the neural correlates underlying these benefits to VWM performance remain unclear. One neural index, the contralateral delay activity (CDA), is an event-related potential that shows increased amplitude according to the number of items held in VWM and asymptotes at an individual's VWM capacity limit. Here, we applied the CDA to determine whether previously reported behavioral benefits supplied by similarity, proximity, and uniform connectedness were reflected as a neural savings such that the CDA amplitude was reduced when these cues were present. We implemented VWM change-detection tasks with arrays including similarity and proximity (Experiment 1); uniform connectedness (Experiments 2a and 2b); and similarity/proximity and uniform connectedness (Experiment 3). The results indicated that when there was a behavioral benefit to VWM, this was echoed by a reduction in CDA amplitude, which suggests more efficient processing. However, not all perceptual grouping cues provided a VWM benefit in the same measure (e.g., accuracy) or of the same magnitude. We also found unexpected interactions between cues. We observed a mixed bag of effects, suggesting that these powerful perceptual grouping benefits are not as predictable in VWM. The current findings indicate that when grouping cues produce behavioral benefits, there is a parallel reduction in the neural resources required to maintain grouped items within VWM.

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