The privileged role of location in visual working memory

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2014 Oct;76(7):1914-24. doi: 10.3758/s13414-013-0541-y.


Reports have conflicted about the possible special role of location in visual working memory (WM). One important question is: Do we maintain the locations of objects in WM even when they are irrelevant to the task at hand? Here we used a continuous response scale to study the types of reporting errors that participants make when objects are presented at the same or at different locations in space. When several objects successively shared the same location, participants exhibited a higher tendency to report features of the wrong object in memory; that is, they responded with features that belonged to objects retained in memory but not probed at retrieval. On the other hand, a similar effect was not observed when objects shared a nonspatial feature, such as color. Furthermore, the effect of location on reporting errors was present even when its manipulation was orthogonal to the task at hand. These findings are consistent with the view that binding together different nonspatial features of an object in memory might be mediated through an object's location. Hence, spatial location may have a privileged role in WM. The relevance of these findings to conceptual models, as well as to neural accounts of visual WM, is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult