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Edyta Sasin, Daryl Fougnie; The road to long-term memory: Top-down attention is more effective than bottom-up attention for forming long-term memories. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):765. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.765.
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We see billions of objects every day, but only some of these get encoded into long-term memory (LTM). There is strong evidence that attention is critical for LTM encoding. However, attention is not a unitary construct. Does the strength of representations in LTM depend on which type of attention is engaged? We tested participants’ memory for objects seen during visual search. Specifically, on every trial, participants searched for an object of a specific color among distractor objects. To manipulate the type of attention, two types of distractors were shown in this task: related-context distractors that grabbed attention because they matched the target defining feature (i.e. similar color; top-down attention) and salient distractors that captured attention only because they were perceptually distracting (bottom-up attention). In Experiment 1, the salient distractor flickered, while in Experiment 2 and Experiment 3, the flickering was replaced by alternations in luminance to generalize over distinct methods of introducing stimulus salience. Both the context-related and salient distractors led to slower search compared to the baseline condition, in which none of these distractors was presented. Critically, in all experiments, we found that salient and related-context distractors produced equivalent attentional capture, yet related-context distractors were remembered better than salient distractors (and salient distractors were not remembered better than unrelated distractors - Experiment 2). Interestingly, the benefit for top-down attention trials over bottom-up attention trials extended to the search targets, demonstrating that the benefit for context-related distractors did not come at the cost of worse memory for targets (Experiment 3). Taken together, these results show that LTM not only depends on the amount of attention but also on the type of attention that is engaged. Specifically, top-down attention is more effective in promoting the formation of memory traces than bottom-up attention.
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