A Dual-Trace Model for Visual Sensory Memory

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Visual sensory memory refers to a transient memory lingering briefly after the stimulus offset. Although previous literature suggests that visual sensory memory is supported by a fine-grained trace for continuous representation and a coarse-grained trace of categorical information, simultaneous separation and assessment of these traces can be difficult without a quantitative model. The present study used a continuous estimation procedure to test a novel mathematical model of the dual-trace hypothesis of visual sensory memory according to which visual sensory memory could be modeled as a mixture of 2 von Mises (2VM) distributions differing in standard deviation. When visual sensory memory and working memory (WM) for colors were distinguished using different experimental manipulations in the first 3 experiments, the 2VM model outperformed Zhang and Luck (2008) standard mixture model (SM) representing a mixture of a single memory trace and random guesses, even though SM outperformed 2VM for WM. Experiment 4 generalized 2VM’s advantages of fitting visual sensory memory data over SM from color to orientation. Furthermore, a single trace model and 4 other alternative models were ruled out, suggesting the necessity and sufficiency of dual traces for visual sensory memory. Together these results support the dual-trace model of visual sensory memory and provide a preliminary inquiry into the nature of information loss from visual sensory memory to WM.

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