Healthy Aging and Visual Working Memory: The Effect of Mixing Feature and Conjunction Changes

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Abstract

It has been suggested that an age-related decrease in the ability to bind and retain conjunctions of features may account for some of the pronounced decline of visual working memory (VWM) across the adult life span. So far the evidence for this proposal has been mixed with some suggesting a specific deficit in binding to location, while the retention of surface feature conjunctions (e.g., color-shape) appears to remain largely intact. The present experiments follow up on the results of an earlier study, which found that older adults were specifically poor at detecting conjunction changes when they were mixed with trials containing changes to individual features, relative to when these trials were blocked (Cowan, Naveh-Benjamin, Kilb, & Saults, 2006). Using stimuli defined by conjunctions of color and shape (Experiment 1), and color and location (Experiment 2) we find no evidence that older adults are less accurate at detecting binding changes when trial types are mixed. Further, analysis of estimates of discriminability provides substantial-to-strong evidence against this suggestion. We discuss these findings in relation to previous studies addressing the same question and suggest that much of the evidence for specific age-related VWM binding deficits is not as strong as it first appears.

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