Bold moves: Inevitable saccadic selection in visual short-term memory

J Vis. 2020 Feb 10;20(2):11. doi: 10.1167/jov.20.2.11.


Selection for visual short-term memory (vstm) provides a basis for many cognitive functions. Saccadic eye movements sway this selection in favor of stimuli previously seen at locations congruent with their target. In three experiments, we provide converging evidence that this saccadic selection is implemented as a fundamental, inevitable selection process, rather than a top-down strategy. In particular, benefits for congruent over incongruent items were largely constant across set sizes ranging from two to eight items (Experiment 1), showing that saccadic selection imposes priorities on vstm irrespective of memory load and is effective even when only few representations need to be maintained. Moreover, a decrement in performance for incongruent items occurred reliably, whether the congruent location contained a task-relevant item or an irrelevant noise patch (Experiment 2). Finally, saccadic selection was immune to a strong manipulation of the observer's attentional priorities (Experiment 3). Given the prevalence of saccades in natural vision, our results demonstrate a fundamental and ecologically relevant selection mechanism for vstm: Saccades systematically eliminate information seen at non-target locations, while information at the saccade target remains available to recall. This simple heuristic is effective in the absence of informative cues and may incapacitate voluntary selection mechanisms that are incongruent with ongoing movement plans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult