A central capacity limit to the simultaneous storage of visual and auditory arrays in working memory

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2007 Nov;136(4):663-84. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.4.663.


If working memory is limited by central capacity (e.g., the focus of attention; N. Cowan, 2001), then storage limits for information in a single modality should apply also to the simultaneous storage of information from different modalities. The authors investigated this by combining a visual-array comparison task with a novel auditory-array comparison task in 5 experiments. Participants were to remember only the visual, only the auditory (unimodal memory conditions), or both arrays (bimodal memory conditions). Experiments 1 and 2 showed significant dual-task tradeoffs for visual but not for auditory capacity. In Experiments 3-5, the authors eliminated modality-specific memory by using postperceptual masks. Dual-task costs occurred for both modalities, and the number of auditory and visual items remembered together was no more than the higher of the unimodal capacities (visual: 3-4 items). The findings suggest a central capacity supplemented by modality- or code-specific storage and point to avenues for further research on the role of processing in central storage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception*