Interactions between visual working memory and selective attention

Psychol Sci. 2000 Nov;11(6):467-73. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00290.


The relationship between working memory and selective attention has traditionally been discussed as operating in one direction: Attention filters incoming information, allowing only relevant information into short-term processing stores. This study tested the prediction that the contents of visual working memory also influence the guidance of selective attention. Participants held a sample object in working memory on each trial. Two objects, one matching the sample and the other novel, were then presented simultaneously. As measured by a probe task, attention shifted to the object matching the sample. This effect generalized across object type, attentional-probe task, and working memory task. In contrast, a matched task with no memory requirement showed the opposite pattern, demonstrating that this effect is not simply due to exposure to the sample. These results confirm a specific prediction about the influence of working memory contents on the guidance of attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Reaction Time