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Ariel Starr, Mahesh Srinivasan, Silvia Bunge; Knowledge about real-world objects influences visual working memory capacity. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):821. doi: 10.1167/18.10.821.
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How does our knowledge about the world influence what we remember? Are we better able to remember items we are familiar with? Across four experiments, we examined how visual working memory capacity varies as a function of object familiarity in both adults (Experiments 1-3) and children (Experiment 4). Experiment 1 was a replication of Brady et al. (2016), in which we compared visual working memory capacity in adults for arrays of five colored squares or real-world objects with variable encoding times. Memory capacity for both colors and objects increased between 300 and 1000ms, but memory for colors leveled off while memory capacity for real-world objects continued to increase with 2000ms of encoding time. In the following experiments, we compared memory capacity for familiar real-world objects (selected based on picture labeling data from children aged 4-6 years; Robertson & Kohler, 2007) versus unfamiliar real-world objects (pictures of three-dimensional uncommon and novel objects). In Experiment 2, we used the same paradigm as Experiment 1 and found that while memory capacity increased at each encoding duration for both types of stimuli, memory was better overall for familiar objects compared to unfamiliar objects. In Experiment 3, we controlled for the possibility that better memory for familiar objects stems from verbal labeling by having participants perform a simultaneous verbal task. Once again, we found that memory capacity was significantly higher for familiar compared to unfamiliar objects. In Experiment 4, we compared memory capacity in children aged 5-7 years for arrays of four familiar or unfamiliar objects with 2000ms of encoding time. Similar to adults, we found a trend towards increased capacity for familiar compared to unfamiliar objects. Together, our data suggest that semantic knowledge influences the capacity of working memory, challenging traditional views of working memory capacity and development.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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