The Role of Attention in Item-Item Binding in Visual Working Memory

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Abstract

An important yet unresolved question regarding visual working memory (VWM) relates to whether or not binding processes within VWM require additional attentional resources compared with processing solely the individual components comprising these bindings. Previous findings indicate that binding of surface features (e.g., colored shapes) within VWM is not demanding of resources beyond what is required for single features. However, it is possible that other types of binding, such as the binding of complex, distinct items (e.g., faces and scenes), in VWM may require additional resources. In 3 experiments, we examined VWM item-item binding performance under no load, articulatory suppression, and backward counting using a modified change detection task. Binding performance declined to a greater extent than single-item performance under higher compared with lower levels of concurrent load. The findings from each of these experiments indicate that processing item-item bindings within VWM requires a greater amount of attentional resources compared with single items. These findings also highlight an important distinction between the role of attention in item-item binding within VWM and previous studies of long-term memory (LTM) where declines in single-item and binding test performance are similar under divided attention. The current findings provide novel evidence that the specific type of binding is an important determining factor regarding whether or not VWM binding processes require attention.

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