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Quan Gu, Wenmin Li, Xiqian Lu, Hui Chen, Mowei Shen, Zaifeng Gao; Agent identity drives adaptive encoding of biological motion into working memory. Journal of Vision 2019;19(14):6. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.14.6.
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To engage in normal social interactions, we have to encode human biological motions (BMs, e.g., walking and jumping), which is one of the most salient and biologically significant types of kinetic information encountered in everyday life, into working memory (WM). Critically, each BM in real life is produced by a distinct person, carrying a dynamic motion signature (i.e., identity). Whether agent identity influences the WM processing of BMs remains unknown. Here, we addressed this question by examining whether memorizing BMs with different identities promoted the WM processing of task-irrelevant clothing colors. Two opposing hypotheses were tested: (a) WM only stores the target action (element-based hypothesis) and (b) WM stores both action and irrelevant clothing color (event-based hypothesis), interpreting each BM as an event. We required participants to memorize actions that either performed by one agent or distinct agents, while ignoring clothing colors. Then we examined whether the irrelevant color was also stored in WM by probing a distracting effect: If the color was extracted into WM, the change of irrelevant color in the probe would lead to a significant distracting effect on action performance. We found that WM encoding of BMs was adaptive: Once the memorized actions had different identities, WM adopted an event-based encoding mode regardless of memory load and probe identity (Experiment 1, different-identity group of Experiment 2, and Experiment 3). However, WM used an element-based encoding mode when memorized-actions shared the same identity (same-identity group of Experiment 2) or were inverted (Experiment 4). Overall, these findings imply that agent identity information has a significant effect on the WM processing of BMs.
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