The Precategorical Nature of Visual Short-Term Memory

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Abstract

We conducted a series of recognition experiments that assessed whether visual short-term memory (VSTM) is sensitive to shared category membership of to-be-remembered (tbr) images of common objects. In Experiment 1 some of the tbr items shared the same basic level category (e.g., hand axe): Such items were no better retained than others. In the remaining experiments, displays contained different images of items from the same higher-level category (e.g., food: a bagel, a sandwich, a pizza). Evidence from the later experiments did suggest that participants were sensitive to the categorical relations present in the displays. However, when separate measures of sensitivity and bias were computed, the data revealed no effects on sensitivity, but a greater tendency to respond positively to noncategory items relative to items from the depicted category. Across all experiments, there was no evidence that items from a common category were better remembered than unique items. Previous work has shown that principles of perceptual organization do affect the storage and maintenance of tbr items. The present work shows that there are no corresponding conceptual principles of organization in VSTM. It is concluded that the sort of VSTM tapped by single probe recognition methods is precategorical in nature.

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