Accessibility Limits Recall From Visual Working Memory

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In this article, we demonstrate limitations of accessibility of information in visual working memory (VWM). Recently, cued-recall has been used to estimate the fidelity of information in VWM, where the feature of a cued object is reproduced from memory (Bays, Catalao, & Husain, 2009; Wilken & Ma, 2004; Zhang & Luck, 2008). Response error in these tasks has been largely studied with respect to failures of encoding and maintenance; however, the retrieval operations used in these tasks remain poorly understood. By varying the number and type of object features provided as a cue in a visual delayed-estimation paradigm, we directly assess the nature of retrieval errors in delayed estimation from VWM. Our results demonstrate that providing additional object features in a single cue reliably improves recall, largely by reducing swap, or misbinding, responses. In addition, performance simulations using the binding pool model (Swan & Wyble, 2014) were able to mimic this pattern of performance across a large span of parameter combinations, demonstrating that the binding pool provides a possible mechanism underlying this pattern of results that is not merely a symptom of one particular parametrization. We conclude that accessing visual working memory is a noisy process, and can lead to errors over and above those of encoding and maintenance limitations.

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