Attention to attributes and objects in working memory

Nelson Cowan, Christopher L. Blume, J. Scott Saults

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It has been debated on the basis of change-detection procedures whether visual working memory is limited by the number of objects, task-relevant attributes within those objects, or bindings between attributes. This debate, however, has been hampered by several limitations, including the use of conditions that vary between studies and the absence of appropriate mathematical models to estimate the number of items in working memory in different stimulus conditions. We reexamined working memory limits in 2 experiments with a wide array of conditions involving color and shape attributes, relying on a set of new models to fit various stimulus situations. In Experiment 2, a new procedure allowed identical retrieval conditions across different conditions of attention at encoding. The results show that multiple attributes compete for attention, but that retaining the binding between attributes is accomplished only by retaining the attributes themselves. We propose a theoretical account in which a fixed object capacity limit contains within it the possibility of the incomplete retention of object attributes, depending on the direction of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-747
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Volume39
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2013

Keywords

  • SHORT-TERM-MEMORY
  • SELECTIVE ATTENTION
  • FEATURE BINDINGS
  • VISUAL MEMORY
  • STORAGE
  • CAPACITY
  • FEATURES
  • INFORMATION
  • REPRESENTATIONS
  • MAINTENANCE

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