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Christian N.L. Olivers; On the role of working memory in visual attention. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1403. doi: 10.1167/15.12.1403.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Current cognitive and neural models of visual attention emphasize the role of working memory in biasing attention to task-relevant input. According to these models, the mnemonic maintenance of visual representations automatically creates an attentional template that prioritizes corresponding stimuli for selection. However, the past decade has provided evidence that visual working memory per se is not sufficient, nor necessary for guiding attention. I give a brief review of the field and of behavioral evidence from our lab, using paradigms that combine a memory task with a visual search task. This evidence suggests that for working memory representations to bias visual attention they require a special active template (or “foreground”) status – in line with models of working memory that assume an internal focus of attention (Oberauer & Hein, 2012). This while more passive “accessory” or “background” memories do not bias attention. Moreover, our most recent behavioral, eye tracking and EEG experiments indicate that task-relevant representations are actively maintained in working memory for only the first one or two trials, after which the memory representation appears to adopt a less active background status (interpreted as a shift to long term memory; Carlisle, Arita, Pardo, & Woodman, 2011). Intriguingly though, this shift from working memory occurs regardless of whether the memory is being used for attentional guidance or not, thus pointing towards a potential dissociation between active (foreground) vs. passive (background) on the one hand, and biasing attention vs. not biasing attention on the other.
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