Project

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The focus of attention in working memory

English title The focus of attention in working memory
Applicant Oberauer Klaus
Number 143333
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Psychologisches Institut Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.02.2013 - 31.08.2017
Approved amount 471'629.00
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Keywords (3)

working memory; attention; interruption

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Working memory is a system of limited capacity that holds a small number of mental contents (such as words, numbers, or objects) available for ongoing processing. As such, working memory is the blackboard of thought. Processing information in working memory involves selective access to some of its contents. For instance, when we add three-digit numbers, we need to selectively access first the ones, then the tens, then the hundreds, without at the same time forgetting the remaining digits. Selective access is the function of a focus of attention directed at working-memory contents. Thus, we can direct attention “inward” on the contents of our working memory just as we can direct attention “outward” to aspects of the perceived world around us. The question addressed in the project is how we can direct attention to contents of working memory. Specifically, we ask three questions: (1) Do different experimental methods for investigating the focus of attention in working memory actually reflect the same mechanism? (2) What is the focus of attention in WM good for, and how does it accomplish these functions? In particular, does focusing on information in working memory serve to refresh that information, so that it is less likely to be forgotten even after the focus of attention moved elsewhere? (3) When a subset of information in WM is focused, what is the fate of the remaining WM contents? Sometimes other, non-focused information is no longer relevant and can be forgotten, whereas in other situations it must be retained – can people remove such information that is no longer relevant from working memory, but retain it if it is still relevant?

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Two distinct mechanisms of selection in working memory: Additive last-item and retro-cue benefits
Niklaus Marcel, Singmann Henrik, Oberauer Klaus (2019), Two distinct mechanisms of selection in working memory: Additive last-item and retro-cue benefits, in Cognition, 183, 282-302.
The precision of spatial selection into the focus of attention in working memory
Souza Alessandra S., Thalmann Mirko, Oberauer Klaus (2018), The precision of spatial selection into the focus of attention in working memory, in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 25(6), 2281-2288.
Feature-based attentional weighting and spreading in visual working memory
Niklaus M., Nobre A. C., van Ede F. (2017), Feature-based attentional weighting and spreading in visual working memory, in Scientific Reports, 7, 42384.
Working Memory Load and the Retro-Cue Effect: A Diffusion Model Account.
Shepherdson Peter, Oberauer Klaus, Souza Alessandra S. (2017), Working Memory Load and the Retro-Cue Effect: A Diffusion Model Account., in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.
Forward scanning in verbal working memory updating
Kessler Yoav, Oberauer Klaus (2015), Forward scanning in verbal working memory updating, in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 1170-1176.
Working Memory Updating Latency Reflects the Cost of Switching Between Maintenance and Updating Modes of Operation
Kessler Yoav, Oberauer Klaus (2014), Working Memory Updating Latency Reflects the Cost of Switching Between Maintenance and Updating Modes of Operation, in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, (3), 738-754.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Israel (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
161985 Removal of Irrelevant Information in Working Memory 01.08.2015 Doc.Mobility
192204 The Cooperation of Working Memory and Long-Term Memory 01.08.2020 Project funding
146074 Transfer effects of function-based working-memory training 01.08.2013 Project funding
135002 The Capacity Limit of Working Memory: Continuous or Discrete? 01.10.2011 Project funding
126766 Attention looking out and looking inward: How is the focus of attention in WM related to perceptual attention? 01.12.2009 Project funding
149193 The Role of Rehearsal in Working Memory 01.03.2014 Project funding

Abstract

Working memory is a system of limited capacity that holds a small number of mental representations available for ongoing processing. As such, working memory is the blackboard of thought. Processing information in working memory involves selective access to some of its contents; this is the function of a focus of attention directed at working-memory contents. Building on our own previous experiments and recent research by others, we ask three questions: (1) Do different experimental paradigms used to study the focus of attention in working memory reflect the same mechanism? Some recent findings give reason to doubt this, and we therefore plan experiments combining different paradigms. (2) What is the function of the focus of attention? Previous work has shown that in recognition tasks, stimuli are compared to all contents of working memory in parallel. Nevertheless, recognition performance is improved if the content most relevant for the recognition decision is focused ahead of time. We also investigate the contribution of focused attention to selective strengthening of memory contents during a retention interval. (3) Under which circumstances are memory contents that are no longer relevant removed from working memroy? We test the hypothesis that irrelevant contents can be removed if they form a coherent subset already at encoding, and if the focus of attention is free to engage in active removal.
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