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Jasper E. Hajonides, Freek van Ede, Mark G. Stokes, Anna C. Nobre; Comparing the prioritization of items and feature-dimensions in visual working memory. Journal of Vision 2020;20(8):25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.8.25.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Selective attention can be directed not only to external sensory inputs, but also to internal sensory representations held within visual working memory (VWM). To date, this phenomenon has been studied predominantly following retrospective cues directing attention to particular items, or their locations in memory. In addition to item-level attentional prioritization, recent studies have shown that selectively attending to feature dimensions in VWM can also improve memory recall performance. However, no study to date has directly compared item-based and dimension-based attention in VWM, nor their neural bases. Here, we compared the benefits of retrospective cues (retro-cues) that were directed either at a multifeature item or at a feature dimension that was shared between two spatially segregated items. Behavioral results revealed qualitatively similar attentional benefits in both recall accuracy and response time, but also showed that cueing benefits were larger after item cues. Concurrent electroencephalogram measurements further revealed a similar attenuation of posterior alpha oscillations following both item and dimension retro-cues when compared with noninformative, neutral retro-cues. We argue that attention can act flexibly to prioritize the most relevant information—at either the item or the dimension level—to optimize ensuing memory-based task performance, and we discuss the implications of the observed commonalities and differences between item-level and dimension-level prioritization in VWM.
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