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Lisa Jefferies; Focusing on memory: Attentional focusing increases the effective capacity of visual working memory. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1055. doi: 10.1167/16.12.1055.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Visual working memory (VWM) is essential for a vast range of cognitive processes, and an individual's VWM capacity strongly predicts both their fluid intelligence and their actual performance on a variety of tasks. VWM is limited in capacity, however, which translates into measurable constraints on cognition and performance. There are hints in the literature to suggest a close association between attention and VWM, and the present study tested whether attentional focusing – expanding or contracting the spatial extent of the attentional focus – modulates the number of items that can be held in VWM. In Experiment 1, large or small spatial precues were presented abruptly at the beginning of each trial, triggering reflexive attentional focusing. A change-detection task in which 4, 6, or 8 colored squares were presented briefly at random locations in the centre of the display was used to estimate VWM capacity (K). The results showed that reflexively narrowing the focus of attention significantly increases the effective capacity of VWM. Experiment 2 assessed whether endogenous focusing would also affect VWM. To this end, large and small precues were spatially superimposed and presented continuously throughout each block. Participants were instructed to attend either to the large or the small precue. To ensure the instructions were followed, the memory array items were presented around the edges of the relevant cue on 75% of the trials. On the remaining 25% of the trials (the critical trials), the memory items were presented in the centre of the display. As in Experiment 1, K was significantly larger when attention was narrowly focused. In both experiments, the benefits of focusing were most evident when the VWM task was difficult. The present findings show that changing how an individual deploys attention significantly increases the effective capacity of VWM. Implications for models of VWM are considered.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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