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Darlene Archer, Joy Geng; The Effect of Visual WM Capacity on Attentional Selection. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1264. doi: 10.1167/11.11.1264.
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Attention can be directed voluntarily by goal relevant information or it can be captured involuntarily by perceptually salient input. For example, the maintenance of target information in working memory (WM) can facilitate strategic allocation of attention to an item that fits target criteria or away from items that fail to meet target criteria (Woodman & Luck, 2007). Similarly, eye movement data suggests that top down attentional selection can be controlled when individuals know that a perceptually salient object cannot be the target (Geng & DiQuattro, 2010). We measured individuals' visual WM capacity using a modified version of the change detection task (Luck & Vogel, 1997). Then we examined individuals' performance and eye movements in a visual search task where a cue provided information about the salience of either the target or distractor on a trial-by-trial basis. High-capacity individuals demonstrated greater ability overriding attentional capture than low-capacity individuals, particularly when the cue indicated that the distractor was salient. More specifically, low capacity individuals were more likely to saccade to a salient distractor first when it was cued. This suggests that distractor salience information held in WM biased low capacity individuals to erroneously select the distractor. Low capacity individuals also had shorter saccade latencies when the first saccade was captured by the salient distractor, indicating oculomotor capture. In contrast, there were no significant differences in these saccade parameters in high capacity individuals. Moreover, high capacity individuals responded faster than low capacity individuals in target-first trials when just the distractor was salient. We conclude that low capacity individuals are more prone to oculomotor capture by salient distractors despite information stored in WM whereas high capacity individuals are able to manipulate information in WM based on task context to optimize behavior (e.g., WM representation is related to the distractor, not target).
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