Visual Working Memory Supports Perceptual Stability Across Saccadic Eye Movements

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Abstract

Vision is suppressed during saccadic eye movements. To create a stable perception of the visual world we must compensate for the gaps in visual input caused by this suppression. Some theories of perceptual stability, such as the Saccade Target Object Theory (McConkie & Currie, 1996), propose that stability relies on object correspondence across saccades. According to these views, the visual system encodes features of the saccade target into visual working memory (VWM) before a saccade is made. After the saccade, participants attempt to locate those features within a small region near the fovea. If this locating process succeeds, perceptual stability is maintained. The present study investigated directly whether perceptual stability relies on VWM. If it does, perceived stability should be impaired when VWM is loaded with other visual information. Participants detected saccade target displacements while simultaneously maintaining a VWM or verbal working memory (AWM) load. In three experiments, a VWM load negatively impacted participants’ ability to detect saccade target displacements and the saccade target displacement task negatively impacted memory for VWM task items. Neither of these effects were apparent when AWM was loaded, suggesting that performance on VWM and saccade target displacement detection tasks, and thus perceptual stability, relies on VWM resources.

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