October 2020
Volume 20, Issue 11
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   October 2020
Multivariate EEG evidence for feature-independent storage in visual working memory
Author Affiliations
  • William Thyer
    University of Chicago
  • Kirsten Adam
    University of California, San Diego
  • Edward Vogel
    University of Chicago
  • Edward Awh
    University of Chicago
Journal of Vision October 2020, Vol.20, 1255. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1255
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      William Thyer, Kirsten Adam, Edward Vogel, Edward Awh; Multivariate EEG evidence for feature-independent storage in visual working memory. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):1255. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1255.

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

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Abstract

Discrete resource models of visual working memory (WM) suggest that the “currency” of WM is best understood in terms of items rather than in terms of the number of independent features that are stored. For instance, it is possible that WM storage is limited by a “pointer system” that can select a maximum number of individuated representations, without regard to the specific features that are maintained, or the total number of features associated with each item. Here, we show that ongoing EEG activity, analyzed via multivariate classification of voltage topography, provides positive evidence for feature-independent storage in visual WM. Using visual displays that controlled for the total amount of sensory stimulation, we manipulated the number of items stored in visual WM (1-4), while varying the feature content of the memoranda. A common group of subjects participated in 3 separate EEG sessions, during which memoranda varied between colors, orientations, and colored oriented lines. Using logistic regression, we observed robust decoding of the number of targets in the test display for each type of stimulus, even at the single-trial level. Critically, cross-training analyses showed that a multivariate model trained on one feature (e.g., color) could effectively decode the load for a different feature (e.g., orientation) as well as for conjunction stimuli that contained double the number of relevant features. In the latter case, a single item with one relevant feature (e.g., color or orientation) yielded the same load signature as an item with double the feature load (color and orientation), indicating that this multivariate index of WM load is independent of the total number of features stored. These findings highlight a time-resolved method for tracking storage loads in visual WM, while providing positive evidence for a feature-independent aspect of storage that may underlie item limits in visual working memory.

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