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: osf.io/3ewh7.
- Complex span
- Working memory