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R. Houtkamp, H. Spekreijse, P.R. Roelfsema; Items in working memory do not automatically attract attention in visual search. Journal of Vision 2002;2(7):536. doi: 10.1167/2.7.536.
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Numerous studies have indicated that attending to an object is a pre-requisite for establishing both long- and short-term memory traces for that object. This link between working memory and attention may also work in the other direction, so that the maintenance of an object in working memory might bias selective attention towards that specific object. However, this view was recently challenged by Woodman, Vogel and Luck (2001).
To directly measure the extent to which items in working memory attract attention, we recorded eye movements while subjects performed an attention-demanding visual search task for a pre-specified target, while maintaining a similar item in working memory for a subsequent visual search task. The items were line-drawings of objects in experiment 1 and colors in experiment 2. If items in working memory attract attention, it is predicted that distractors in the search array that match the item in working memory result in more interference during visual search. However, no such interference was found in the manual response times. Also, fixation durations on items in working memory were no longer than those on other distractors. Furthermore, the percentages of eye movements toward the item in working memory and towards other distractors did not differ.
We therefore conclude that items in working memory do not automatically attract attention during visual search. Apparently the visual system keeps the “search template” separate from other items stored for later use.
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