Remembering complex objects in visual working memory: do capacity limits restrict objects or features?

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2015 Mar;41(2):325-47. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000031. Epub 2014 Aug 4.


Visual working memory stores stimuli from our environment as representations that can be accessed by high-level control processes. This study addresses a longstanding debate in the literature about whether storage limits in visual working memory include a limit to the complexity of discrete items. We examined the issue with a number of change-detection experiments that used complex stimuli that possessed multiple features per stimulus item. We manipulated the number of relevant features of the stimulus objects in order to vary feature load. In all of our experiments, we found that increased feature load led to a reduction in change-detection accuracy. However, we found that feature load alone could not account for the results but that a consideration of the number of relevant objects was also required. This study supports capacity limits for both feature and object storage in visual working memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color Perception
  • Female
  • Form Perception*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult