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Chunyue Teng, Dwight J Kravitz; Visual Working Memory Directly Alters Perception. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):81c. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.81c.
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The ability to maintain and manipulate information in visual working memory (VWM) underlies critical high-level behaviors from directing attention to making complex decisions, but its direct impact on perception remains unclear. The sensory recruitment model (e.g. D’Esposito & Postle, 2015) posits that VWM content is maintained in posterior visual areas, supported by recent fMRI decoding evidence of VWM content in those areas. The current study hypothesized that if VWM maintenance and perceptual processing recruit overlapping neuronal resources in sensory areas, then: 1) interference between perception and VWM should be bidirectional and 2) the degree of interference should be predictable from the tuning properties of sensory areas. To test these predictions, we quantified color and orientation discrimination thresholds while participants maintained a color or orientation in mind. The maintained item attracted the representations of the discrimination stimuli towards itself proportional to its similarity to them in orientation or color space. When the maintained item was between the two discrimination stimuli it drew both towards itself equally, leading to increased thresholds. When it was positioned to either side of the discrimination stimuli it drew the near stimulus towards itself more strongly, leading to decreased thresholds. Critically, this effect was only present when the maintained item and the discrimination stimuli matched (maintaining and discriminating orientation vs. maintaining color and discriminating orientation) even in physically identical trials. Moreover, the discrimination stimuli created bias in VWM representation, demonstrating bidirectionality. Thus, maintaining VWM information in sensory areas causes what you see and what you are holding in mind to be intertwined at the most fundamental stages of processing. More generally, these results open up a new domain in which to directly compare different top-down and bottom-up cognitive processes that have been shown to influence low-level perception, such as visual imagery, VWM, attention, and perceptual priming.
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