September 2019
Volume 19, Issue 10
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2019
Dissociating visual working memory for objects and scene layout
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Anna Shafer-Skelton
    Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego
  • Timothy F Brady
    Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego
Journal of Vision September 2019, Vol.19, 201. doi:
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      Anna Shafer-Skelton, Timothy F Brady; Dissociating visual working memory for objects and scene layout. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):201. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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A fundamental question in cognition is how our memory stores are structured. While neuroimaging evidence suggests that objects and the layouts of major surfaces in a scene may be processed separately, previous behavioral work has encountered mixed results in relation to working memory, possibly because this work has largely not isolated scene layout, instead using scenes that contain objects. To investigate scene layout vs. object memory stores, we asked participants to remember items in four types of displays (1) three colors, (2) four colors, (3) three colors plus a full screen background scene with no objects, and (4) three colors plus a large peripheral gabor stimulus. If object and scene memory rely on separate resources, remembering a scene should have a smaller cost to participants’ object memory than remembering an additional object. As expected, we found that memory for three colors was better than four (measured using TCC, Schurgin, Wixted & Brady, 2018). We found that remembering a scene in addition to three colors had a reliable cost to participants’ color memory performance (t(19)=4.48, p< 0.001), but that remembering a scene caused less of a cost to color memory than remembering a gabor (t(19)=3.38, p=0.003), a task designed to incur similar costs at encoding. There was no evidence that this can be explained by different tradeoffs between the gabor and scene memory task vs. the color memory task, as performance at the scene task was numerically higher than at the gabor task. Together, our results (1) indicate that previous work suggesting that scenes can be represented with reduced attention does not translate into effortless memory or completely independent memory resources for scene layout vs. objects, and (2) suggest that memory for object-less scenes is more distinct from object memory than memory for other classes of objects.

Acknowledgement: NSF CAREER BCS-1653457 to TFB, NSF GRFP to AS 

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