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Control of information in working memory: Encoding and removal of distractors in the complex-span paradigm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-128
Number of pages23
Early online date20 Aug 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 16 Aug 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Aug 2016
DatePublished (current) - Nov 2016


The article reports four experiments with complex-span tasks in which encoding of memory items alternates with processing of distractors. The experiments test two assumptions of a computational model of complex span, SOB-CS: (1) distractor processing impairs memory because distractors are encoded into working memory, thereby interfering with memoranda; and (2) free time following distractors is used to remove them from working memory by unbinding their representations from list context. Experiment 1 shows that distractors are erroneously chosen for recall more often than not-presented stimuli, demonstrating that distractors are encoded into memory. Distractor intrusions declined with longer free time, as predicted by distractor removal. Experiment 2 shows these effects even when distractors precede the memory list, ruling out an account based on selective rehearsal of memoranda during free time. Experiments 3 and 4 test the notion that distractors decay over time. Both experiments show that, contrary to the notion of distractor decay, the chance of a distractor intruding at test does not decline with increasing time since encoding of that distractor. Experiment 4 provides additional evidence against the prediction from distractor decay that distractor intrusions decline over an unfilled retention interval. Taken together, the results support SOB-CS and rule out alternative explanations. Data and simulation code are available on Open Science Framework:

    Structured keywords

  • Memory

    Research areas

  • Complex span, Decay, Interference, Working memory

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    Rights statement: This is the accepted author manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elsevier at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 827 KB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND


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