Insights into visual working memory precision at the feature- and object-level from a hemispheric encoding manipulation

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2020 Nov;73(11):1949-1968. doi: 10.1177/1747021820934990. Epub 2020 Jul 7.


Mnemonic precision is an important aspect of visual working memory (WM). Here, we probed mechanisms that affect precision for spatial (size) and non-spatial (colour) features of an object, and whether these features are encoded and/or stored separately in WM. We probed precision at the feature-level-that is, whether different features of a single object are represented separately or together in WM-and the object-level-that is, whether different features across a set of sequentially presented objects are represented in the same or different WM stores. By manipulating whether stimuli were encoded by the left and/or right hemisphere, we gained further insights into how objects are represented in WM. At the feature-level, we tested whether recall fidelity for the two features of an object fluctuated in tandem from trial to trial. We observed no significant coupling under either central or lateralized encoding, supporting the claim of parallel feature channels at encoding. At the level of WM storage of a set of objects, we found asymmetric feature interference under central encoding, whereby an increase in colour load led to a decrease in size precision. When objects were encoded by a single hemisphere, however, we found largely independent feature stores. Precision for size was more resistant to interference from the size of another object under right-hemisphere encoding; by contrast, precision for colour did not differ across hemispheres, suggesting a more distributed WM store. These findings suggest that distinct features of a single object are represented separately but are then partially integrated during maintenance of a set of sequentially presented objects.

Keywords: Visual working memory; encoding; feature binding; hemisphere; interference; precision.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult