Individual Differences in Rate of Encoding Predict Estimates of Visual Short-Term Memory Capacity (K)

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The capacity of visual short-term memory (VSTM) is commonly estimated by K scores obtained with a change-detection task. Contrary to common belief, K may be influenced not only by capacity but also by the rate at which stimuli are encoded into VSTM. Experiment 1 showed that, contrary to earlier conclusions, estimates of VSTM capacity obtained with a change-detection task are constrained by temporal limitations. In Experiment 2, we used change-detection and backward-masking tasks to obtain separate within-subject estimates of K and of rate of encoding, respectively. A median split based on rate of encoding revealed significantly higher K estimates for fast encoders. Moreover, a significant correlation was found between K and the estimated rate of encoding. The present findings raise the prospect that the reported relationships between K and such cognitive concepts as fluid intelligence may be mediated not only by VSTM capacity but also by rate of encoding.

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