Insensitivity of visual short-term memory to irrelevant visual information
Several authors have hypothesized that visuo-spatial working memory is functionally analogous to verbal working memory. Irrelevant background speech impairs verbal short-term memory. We investigated whether irrelevant visual information has an analogous effect on visual short-term memory, using a dynamic visual noise (DVN) technique known to disrupt visual imagery (Quinn & McConnell, 1996b). Experiment 1 replicated the effect of DVN on pegword imagery. Experiments 2 and 3 showed no effect of DVN on recall of static matrix patterns, despite a significant effect of a concurrent spatial tapping task. Experiment 4 showed no effect of DVN on encoding or maintenance of arrays of matrix patterns, despite testing memory by a recognition procedure to encourage visual rather than spatial processing. Serial position curves showed a one-item recency effect typical of visual short-term memory. Experiment 5 showed no effect of DVN on short-term recognition of Chinese characters, despite effects of visual similarity and a concurrent colour memory task that confirmed visual processing of the characters. We conclude that irrelevant visual noise does not impair visual short-term memory. Visual working memory may not be functionally analogous to verbal working memory, and different cognitive processes may underlie visual short-term memory and visual imagery.
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