Executive and Perceptual Distraction in Visual Working Memory

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The contents of visual working memory are likely to reflect the influence of both executive control resources and information present in the environment. We investigated whether executive attention is critical in the ability to exclude unwanted stimuli by introducing concurrent potentially distracting irrelevant items to a visual working memory paradigm, and manipulating executive load using simple or more demanding secondary verbal tasks. Across 7 experiments varying in presentation format, timing, stimulus set, and distractor number, we observed clear disruptive effects of executive load and visual distraction, but relatively minimal evidence supporting an interactive relationship between these factors. These findings are in line with recent evidence using delay-based interference, and suggest that different forms of attentional selection operate relatively independently in visual working memory.

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