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Focused attention improves working memory: implications for flexible-resource and discrete-capacity models

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Souza Alessandra, Rerko Laura, Lin Hsuan-Yu, Oberauer Klaus,
Project The Capacity Limit of Working Memory: Continuous or Discrete?
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Title of proceedings Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics
DOI 10.3758/s13414-014-0687-2


Performance in working memory (WM) tasks depends on the capacity for storing objects and on the allocation of attention to these objects. Here, we explored how capacity models need to be augmented to account for the benefit of focusing attention on the target of recall. Participants encoded six colored disks (Experiment 1) or a set of one to eight colored disks (Experiment 2) and were cued to recall the color of a target on a color wheel. In the no-delay condition, the recall-cue was presented after a 1,000-ms retention interval, and participants could report the retrieved color immediately. In the delay condition, the recall-cue was presented at the same time as in the no-delay condition, but the opportunity to report the color was delayed. During this delay, participants could focus attention exclusively on the target. Responses deviated less from the target’s color in the delay than in the no-delay condition. Mixture modeling assigned this benefit to a reduction in guessing (Experiments 1 and 2) and transposition errors (Experiment 2). We tested several computational models implementing flexible or discrete capacity allocation, aiming to explain both the effect of set size, reflecting the limited capacity ofWM, and the effect of delay, reflecting the role of attention to WM representations. Both models fit the data better when a spatially graded source of transposition error is added to its assumptions. The benefits of focusing attention could be explained by allocating to this object a higher proportion of the capacity to represent color.