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The influence of similarity on visual working memory representations

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In verbal memory, similarity between items in memory often leads to interference and impaired memory performance. The present study sought to determine whether analogous interference effects would be observed in visual working memory by varying the similarity of the to-be-remembered objects in a colour change detection task. Instead of leading to interference and impaired performance, increased similarity among the items being held in memory led to improved performance. Moreover, when two similar colours were presented along with one dissimilar colour, memory performance was better for the similar colours than for the dissimilar colour. Similarity produced better performance even when the objects were presented sequentially and even when memory for the first item in the sequence was tested. These findings show that similarity does not lead to interference between representations in visual working memory. Instead, similarity may lead to improved task performance, possibly due to increased stability or precision of the memory representations during maintenance.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13506280701766313

Affiliations: 1: University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA 2: University of California, Davis, CA, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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