No fixed item limit in visuospatial working memory

Cortex. 2016 Oct;83:181-93. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2016.07.021. Epub 2016 Aug 6.


Investigations of working memory capacity in the visual domain have converged on the concept of a limited supply of a representational medium, flexibly distributed between objects. Current debate centers on whether this medium is continuous, or quantized into 2 or 3 memory "slots". The latter model makes the strong prediction that, if an item in memory is probed, behavioral parameters will plateau when the number of items is the same or more than the number of slots. Here we examine short-term memory for object location using a two-dimensional pointing task. We show that recall variability for items in memory increases monotonically from 1 to 8 items. Using a novel method to isolate only those trials on which a participant correctly identifies the target, we show that response latency also increases monotonically from 1 to 8 items. We argue that both these findings are incompatible with a quantized model.

Keywords: Bayesian; Resource; Spatial; Variability; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult