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Andria Shimi, Gaia Scerif; Developmental changes in retrospective attention influence visual working memory precision. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):982. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.982.
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Visual working memory (VWM) improves dramatically during childhood but what drives this improvement is not well understood. One influential account thus far has been a simple increase in storage capacity (Cowan et al., 2010). However, recent findings have shown that differences in the ability to use attention retrospectively to enhance the maintenance of internal representations are also important for understanding developmental improvements in VWM (Shimi, Nobre, Astle, & Scerif, 2014). Yet, changes in this ability are not the endpoint to understanding developmental differences in VWM performance (Shimi & Scerif, 2017). Indeed, additional findings have indicated developmental changes in VWM precision (Burnett Heyes, Zokaei, van der Staaij, Bays, & Husain, 2012). In this study, we aimed to examine whether the developing ability to orient attention retrospectively to internal representations influences VWM precision differentially for children than for adults. To do so, we employed a paradigm that combined the continuous-recall VWM task with the partial-cueing report task. Specifically, seven-year-olds and young adults were asked to reproduce the colour of a probe item in a colour-wheel. The initial memory array, which included the probe item, could be uncued or followed by a spatial cue (retrocue) that directed participants’ attention to a location in the memory array. Results showed that attentional biases engendered by retro-cues facilitated fidelity (overall precision) compared to uncued, baseline performance, for both age groups, but to a smaller degree in 7-year-olds compared to adults. Importantly, investigation of modelling parameters suggested that children demonstrate lower representational fidelity of items in VWM and that spatial attentional cues improve overall precision by increasing the probability of target storage, maintenance and recall, and by reducing misbinding errors as well as random guessing. These results extend further our knowledge on the relation between retrospective attention and VWM development.
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