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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Feature-based and spatial attentional selection in visual working memory

Anna Heuer, Anna Schubö
Memory & Cognition 2016, 44 (4): 621-32
26754949
The contents of visual working memory (VWM) can be modulated by spatial cues presented during the maintenance interval ("retrocues"). Here, we examined whether attentional selection of representations in VWM can also be based on features. In addition, we investigated whether the mechanisms of feature-based and spatial attention in VWM differ with respect to parallel access to noncontiguous locations. In two experiments, we tested the efficacy of valid retrocues relying on different kinds of information. Specifically, participants were presented with a typical spatial retrocue pointing to two locations, a symbolic spatial retrocue (numbers mapping onto two locations), and two feature-based retrocues: a color retrocue (a blob of the same color as two of the items) and a shape retrocue (an outline of the shape of two of the items). The two cued items were presented at either contiguous or noncontiguous locations. Overall retrocueing benefits, as compared to a neutral condition, were observed for all retrocue types. Whereas feature-based retrocues yielded benefits for cued items presented at both contiguous and noncontiguous locations, spatial retrocues were only effective when the cued items had been presented at contiguous locations. These findings demonstrate that attentional selection and updating in VWM can operate on different kinds of information, allowing for a flexible and efficient use of this limited system. The observation that the representations of items presented at noncontiguous locations could only be reliably selected with feature-based retrocues suggests that feature-based and spatial attentional selection in VWM rely on different mechanisms, as has been shown for attentional orienting in the external world.

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