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Melonie Williams, Geoffrey F. Woodman; Directed forgetting versus directed remembering in visual working memory. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):201. doi: 10.1167/8.6.201.
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An individual's ability to temporarily store information in visual working memory is extremely limited in capacity. Due to this extreme capacity limit, it would be advantageous to be able to selectively maintain the most relevant subset of information stored in visual working memory. In the present study, we examined the ability of subjects to make use of cues to either forget or remember a subset of the information stored in visual working memory during a retention interval in a change-detection task. On half of the trials, participants were cued to either forget or continue to maintain one of two sequentially presented arrays of colored squares. Contrary to previous work, we found that directed forgetting cues did aid change-detection performance for the information that was retained. However, we found that subjects benefited more from a cue to remember a subset of the information in visual working memory, suggesting that discarding information from visual working memory requires an additional cognitive operation compared to selectively maintaining subsets of information. Although, both low and high capacity individuals benefited from both types of cues, the results revealed an interaction between capacity and cue type. This would suggest that high capacity individuals differ from low capacity individuals in their use of the two types of cues. These findings are consistent with the idea that subjects can focus maintenance mechanisms on a set of information that is within their capacity, and are even capable of manipulating the maintenance process in order to better performance. Our results support the hypothesis that observers can selectively maintain certain objects in visual working memory based on cues to select or discard other objects from memory.
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