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Elizabeth Allen, Andrew Mattarella-Micke, Sian Beilock, Steven Shevell; Individual differences in perceptual memory for an ambiguous figure are predicted by individuals’ working memory capacity. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):1348. doi: 10.1167/13.9.1348.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Ambiguous figures such as the Necker cube elicit regular perceptual alternations between two appropriate interpretations. Previous work has shown that higher working memory capacity (WMC) may promote perceptual stability of a currently-perceived interpretation. Specifically, higher-WMC individuals experience fewer perceptual alternations of the Necker cube than lower-WMC individuals (Allen et al., VSS2010). A possible explanation is that interpreting an ambiguous figure requires a form of problem-solving or hypothesis-testing (Gregory, 1972), something that higher-WMC individuals excel at during high-level cognitive tasks (Dougherty & Hunter, 2003). Presenting a Necker cube intermittently rather than continuously dramatically reduces perceptual alternations. This phenomenon, a type of perceptual memory (Leopold et al., 2002), is studied here to test whether higher-WMC individuals experience fewer perceptual alternations than lower-WMC individuals under intermittent-presentation conditions. In other words, does higher WMC predict better perceptual memory? Participants indicated perceptual alternations of a Necker cube during 2-min trials from four conditions. In the Continuous condition, the cube was presented continuously, as in Allen et al. (VSS2010). In three Intermittent conditions, the cube was presented for 1 sec and then disappeared for (i) 1 sec (Short-Intermittent condition), (ii) 5 sec (Medium-Intermittent condition), or (iii) 10 sec (Long-Intermittent condition). Replicating previous results, WMC was negatively correlated with perceptual alternations in the Continuous condition (r=-0.31, p<0.02). Additionally, WMC was negatively correlated with perceptual alternations in the Short-Intermittent (r=-0.29, p<0.03) and Long-Intermittent conditions (r=-0.32, p<0.02). Results from the Medium-Intermittent condition approached significance (r=-0.21, p<0.10). Overall, higher WMC did indeed predict better perceptual memory. The results support a novel role for working memory in a lower-level form of problem-solving than is typically associated with WMC. Moreover, they suggest that working memory aids in disambiguating visual information by maintaining an interpretation of a stimulus even when the stimulus is not seen, and without any instruction to do so.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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