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No evidence for binding of items to task-irrelevant backgrounds in visual working memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1144–1159
Number of pages16
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
Early online date28 Jun 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Jun 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jun 2017
DatePublished (current) - Oct 2017


When representing visual features such as color and shape in visual working memory (VWM), participants also represent the locations of those features as a spatial configuration of location of those features in the display. In everyday life, we encounter objects against some background, yet it is unclear whether the configural representation in memory obligatorily constitutes the entire display, including that (often task-irrelevant) background information. In three experiments, participants completed a change detection task on color and shape; the memoranda were presented either in front of uniform grey backgrounds, a textured background (Experiment 1), or a background containing location place-holders (Experiments 2 and 3). When whole-display probes were presented, changes to the objects locations or feature bindings impacted memory performance – implying that the spatial configuration of the probes influenced their change decision. Furthermore, when only a single item was probed, the effect of changing its location or feature bindings were either diminished or completely extinguished, implying single probes do not necessarily rely on the spatial configuration. Critically, when task-irrelevant backgrounds were also presented, which may have provided a spatial configuration for the single probes, the effect of location or bindings was not moderated. These findings suggest that although the spatial configuration of a display guides VWM-based recognition, this information does not necessarily always influence the decision process during change detection.

    Structured keywords

  • Memory

    Research areas

  • visual working memory, change detection, feature binding, location binding, relational encoding

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