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Megan T deBettencourt, Paul A Keene, Edward Awh, Edward K Vogel; Real-time triggering reveals sustained attention and working memory lapse together. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):133c. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.133c.
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Attention and working memory are clearly intertwined, as shown by covariations in individual ability and their recruitment of similar neural substrates. Both processes fluctuate over time, and these fluctuations may be a key determinant of individual variations in ability. Theories suggest attention and memory rely upon a common cognitive resource but do not address whether attention and working memory fluctuate together moment-to-moment. The goal of this study was to determine when attention and memory fluctuate in synchrony, and then to leverage fluctuations of attention to optimize memory encoding. To examine this, we developed a novel hybrid task that interleaved a sustained attention to response task and a whole report working memory task. In Experiment 1, we established that performance fluctuations on these tasks correlated across and within participants, as attention lapses led to worse working memory performance. Experiment 2 extended this finding using a real-time triggering procedure that monitored attention fluctuations to probe working memory during optimal (high attention) or suboptimal (low attention) moments. We demonstrated that participants in a low attention state stored fewer items in working memory. Experiment 3 ruled out task-general fluctuations as an explanation for these covariations by showing that the precision of color working memory was unaffected by variations in attentional state. In sum, these findings highlight the utility of adaptive experimental designs to probe the relationship between attention and memory. We demonstrate that attention and working memory lapse together, providing new evidence for the tight integration of these cognitive processes.
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