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Dirk van Moorselaar, Jan Theeuwes, Christian Olivers; The limitations of visual working memory in prioritizing visual stimuli for conscious access. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):35. doi: 10.1167/16.12.35.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Models of biased competition assume that memory-related activation in early visual areas biases processing towards memory-matching items. Consistent with this, evidence from breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS, where a pattern to one eye is temporarily rendered invisible by presenting a dynamic pattern to the other eye) shows that stimuli matching the content of visual working memory (VWM) are prioritized for conscious experience. So far this has been shown for single items in memory, in combination with single targets presented in the display. In the present set of experiments we investigated the limitations of working memory in driving b-CFS, as well as the role of competition in the target display. When the target was the only item in the display, results showed that targets matching the current memory broke through CFS sooner than non-matching targets. Importantly, this break-through benefit was reduced by half when memory load increased from one to two, suggesting that the prioritization for conscious access becomes less efficient when more than one item has to be maintained in VWM. When the target was not the only item in the display, the break-through benefit again decreased when load increased from one to two. However, these benefits were no longer specific to CFS as the same results were obtained in the monocular control condition. This suggests that when multiple items are suppressed VWM content is no longer prioritized for conscious experience, but VWM can still benefit attentional selection of matching visual input. A subsequent experiment showed that this benefit was strategic rather than automatic. When the VWM content could only match a competing distractor, it no longer had an effect on b-CFS. Implications for models assuming a single active representation in VWM are discussed.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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