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Antonio H. Lara, Jonathan D. Wallis; Capacity and precision in an animal model of visual short-term memory. Journal of Vision 2012;12(3):13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/12.3.13.
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Temporary storage of information in visual short-term memory (VSTM) is a key component of many complex cognitive abilities. However, it is highly limited in capacity. Understanding the neurophysiological nature of this capacity limit will require a valid animal model of VSTM. We used a multiple-item color change detection task to measure macaque monkeys' VSTM capacity. Subjects' performance deteriorated and reaction times increased as a function of the number of items in memory. Additionally, we measured the precision of the memory representations by varying the distance between sample and test colors. In trials with similar sample and test colors, subjects made more errors compared to trials with highly discriminable colors. We modeled the error distribution as a Gaussian function and used this to estimate the precision of VSTM representations. We found that as the number of items in memory increases the precision of the representations decreases dramatically. Additionally, we found that focusing attention on one of the objects increases the precision with which that object is stored and degrades the precision of the remaining. These results are in line with recent findings in human psychophysics and provide a solid foundation for understanding the neurophysiological nature of the capacity limit of VSTM.
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