Loss of visual working memory within seconds: The combined use of refreshable and non-refreshable features

Timothy J. Ricker*, Nelson Cowan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We rexamine the role of time in the loss of information from working memory, the limited information accesible for cognitive tasks. The controversial issue of whether working memory deteriorates over time was investigated using arrays of unconventional visual characters. Each array was followed by a postperceptual mask, a variable retention interval (RI), and a recognition probe character. Dramatic forgiving across an unfilled RI of up to 6 s was observed. Adding a distracting task during the RI (repetition, subtraction, or parity judgment using spoken digits) lowered the level of recall but not increasingly so across RIs. Also, arrays of English letters were not forgotten during the RI unless distracting stimuli were included, in contrast to the finding for unconventional characters. The results suggest that unconventional visual items include some features inevitably lost over time. Attention-related processing, however, assists in the retention of other features and of English letters. We identify important constraints for working memory theories and propose that an equilibrium between forgetting and reactivation holds but only for elements that are not inevitably lost over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1355-1368
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Volume36
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

Keywords

  • time
  • decay
  • interference
  • cognitive load
  • working memory
  • SHORT-TERM-MEMORY
  • IMMEDIATE SERIAL-RECALL
  • TEMPORAL DISTINCTIVENESS
  • CAPACITY LIMIT
  • TIME
  • MODEL
  • DECAY
  • STORAGE
  • INFORMATION
  • RECENCY

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