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Psychol Sci. 2007 Jul;18(7):622-8.

Visual working memory represents a fixed number of items regardless of complexity.

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1
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1227, USA. awh@uoregon.edu

Abstract

Does visual working memory represent a fixed number of objects, or is capacity reduced as object complexity increases? We measured accuracy in detecting changes between sample and test displays and found that capacity estimates dropped as complexity increased. However, these apparent capacity reductions were strongly correlated with increases in sample-test similarity (r= .97), raising the possibility that change detection was limited by errors in comparing the sample and test, rather than by the number of items that were maintained in working memory. Accordingly, when sample-test similarity was low, capacity estimates for even the most complex objects were equivalent to the estimate for the simplest objects (r= .88), suggesting that visual working memory represents a fixed number of items regardless of complexity. Finally, a correlational analysis suggested a two-factor model of working memory ability, in which the number and resolution of representations in working memory correspond to distinct dimensions of memory ability.

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