Spatial Working Memory Capacity Predicts Bias in Estimates of Location

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Spatial memory research has attributed systematic bias in location estimates to a combination of a noisy memory trace with a prior structure that people impose on the space. Little is known about intraindividual stability and interindividual variation in these patterns of bias. In the current work, we align recent empirical and theoretical work on working memory capacity limits and spatial memory bias to generate the prediction that those with lower working memory capacity will show greater bias in memory of the location of a single item. Reanalyzing data from a large study of cognitive aging, we find support for this prediction. Fitting separate models to individuals’ data revealed a surprising variety of strategies. Some were consistent with Bayesian models of spatial category use, however roughly half of participants biased estimates outward in a way not predicted by current models and others seemed to combine these strategies. These analyses highlight the importance of studying individuals when developing general models of cognition.

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