Memory-Based Attention Capture When Multiple Items Are Maintained in Visual Working Memory

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Efficient visual search requires that attention is guided strategically to relevant objects, and most theories of visual search implement this function by means of a target template maintained in visual working memory (VWM). However, there is currently debate over the architecture of VWM-based attentional guidance. We contrasted a single-item-template hypothesis with a multiple-item-template hypothesis, which differ in their claims about structural limits on the interaction between VWM representations and perceptual selection. Recent evidence from van Moorselaar, Theeuwes, and Olivers (2014) indicated that memory-based capture during search, an index of VWM guidance, is not observed when memory set size is increased beyond a single item, suggesting that multiple items in VWM do not guide attention. In the present study, we maximized the overlap between multiple colors held in VWM and the colors of distractors in a search array. Reliable capture was observed when 2 colors were held in VWM and both colors were present as distractors, using both the original van Moorselaar et al. singleton-shape search task and a search task that required focal attention to array elements (gap location in outline square stimuli). In the latter task, memory-based capture was consistent with the simultaneous guidance of attention by multiple VWM representations.

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