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Lingling Wang, Steven Most; Visual working memory supports configuration, but not maintenance or application, of attentional control settings. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):322. doi: 10.1167/10.7.322.
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What mechanism allows people to tune attention to search for pre-specified targets? One possibility is that such “attentional sets” involve the holding of target features in visual working memory (VWM). Alternatively, VWM might support the configuration of attentional set but become less central once configuration is completed. We tested these possibilities by manipulating concurrent VWM load during a classic “contingent attentional capture” task, where non-targets that contain features of a pre-specified target typically capture attention (indexed via response time; Folk et al., 1992). In Experiment 1, participants made speeded judgments about a target (identifying it as either ‘=’ or ‘X’); the target was always red for the half the participants and always green for the other half, and it was preceded by a cue that a) either was of the same color as the target or the opposite color, and b) appeared in the same location as the target or in a different location. Each trial occurred during the retention interval of a VWM task, where participants attempted to remember the colors of either two squares (low load) or four squares (high load). Results revealed that cues matching the target color captured attention more robustly than cues of the opposite color (i.e., contingent capture), but that this was unaffected by VWM load. Experiment 2 introduced the need to configure attentional set trial-by-trial, as well as the between-subjects factor of whether VWM load was induced before or after providing information about the target color on each trial. Results revealed no effect of VWM load when information about the target color appeared prior to the induction of VWM load, but there was a significant effect of VWM load when such information was provided afterwards. Thus, VWM appears crucial for the configuration of attentional set but not necessarily for its maintenance or application.
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