Attention effects during visual short-term memory maintenance: protection or prioritization?

Percept Psychophys. 2007 Nov;69(8):1422-34. doi: 10.3758/bf03192957.


Interactions between visual attention and visual short-term memory (VSTM) play a central role in cognitive processing. For example, attention can assist in selectively encoding items into visual memory. Attention appears to be able to influence items already stored in visual memory, as well; cues that appear long after the presentation of an array of objects can affect memory for those objects (Griffin & Nobre, 2003). In five experiments, we distinguished two possible mechanisms for the effects of cues on items currently stored in VSTM. A protection account proposes that attention protects the cued item from becoming degraded during the retention interval. By contrast, aprioritization account suggests that attention increases a cued item's priority during the comparison process that occurs when memory is tested. The results of the experiments were consistent with the first of these possibilities, suggesting that attention can serve to protect VSTM representations while they are being maintained.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Cognition*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Reaction Time
  • Retention, Psychology*
  • Visual Perception*