Trade-off in the effect of attention for visual short term memory

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Unconscious States Processing
Visual short term memory, attention, visual imagery
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Date of Issue: 
Eiichi Hoshino, Ken Mogi
Event Dates: 
24 June – 27 June 2010
Event Location: 
Toronto, Canada
Event Title: 
14th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Publish status: 
Trade-off in the effect of attention for visual short term memory. Failures of perception such as change blindness (Rensink et al. 1997) provide insights into the nature of visual consciousness. Visual short term memory is an important constituent of visual awareness in its temporal manifestations. Paying attention to a particular aspect of an object tend to reduce vulnerability in memory probes in that context (Makovski et al. 2008, Griffin and Nobre 2003). Paying attention to a particular feature, however, might also lead to failures in the perception of others. Even when selective attention is absent at the time of encoding, attending to a particular aspect at the time of recall might lead to the disruption of other features. Such a co-existence of enhancement and disruption would illuminate the nature of visual short term memory, and visual consciousness in general. Here we conducted a visual short term memory experiment using easily distinguishable and yet forgettable stimuli in a delayed matching task. The experiment consisted of the learning, recall and recognition phases. In the learning phase, the subjects viewed an array of four objects consisting of nonsensical line drawings, followed by blanks of multiple durations. During the recall phase, on the presentation of an arrow cue, the subjects were required to recall one of four objects corresponding to the cue. In the recognition phase, a memory probe object was presented, where subjects were required to answer whether the object was at the indicated location ("valid"), or at one of the other locations ("invalid"), or a novel one ("novel"). The results show that when the interval between learning and recall was sufficiently long, the probability of the subject incorrectly answering "novel" for an "invalid" stimulus was significantly higher, while the correct recognition of valid object was enhanced by a cue. Thus, focusing on a particular aspect in recall results in the enhancement of relevant information, while irrelevant information is degraded, even when there was no attentional asymmetry during encoding. Taking our results together with recent findings, we discuss the trade-off in the effect of attention for visual short term memory.
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