How Is the Serial Order of a Visual Sequence Represented? Insights From Transposition Latencies

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A central goal of research on short-term memory (STM) over the past 2 decades has been to identify the mechanisms that underpin the representation of serial order, and to establish whether these mechanisms are the same across different modalities and domains (e.g., verbal, visual, spatial). A fruitful approach to addressing this question has involved comparing the transposition error latency predictions of models built from different candidate mechanisms for representing serial order. Experiments involving the output-timed serial recall of sequences of verbal (Farrell & Lewandowsky, 2004) and spatial (Hurlstone & Hitch, 2015) items have revealed an error latency profile consistent with the prediction of a competitive queuing mechanism within which serial order is represented via a primacy gradient of activations over items, associations between items and position markers, with suppression of items following recall. In this paper, we extend this chronometric analysis of recall errors to the serial recall of sequences of visual, nonspatial, items and find across 3 experiments an error latency profile broadly consistent with the prediction of the same representational mechanism. The findings suggest that common mechanisms and principles contribute to the representation of serial order across the verbal, visual, and spatial STM domains. The implications of these findings for theories of short-term and working memory are considered.

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