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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2008 Feb;137(1):163-81. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.137.1.163.

Understanding the function of visual short-term memory: transsaccadic memory, object correspondence, and gaze correction.

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Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1407, USA.


Visual short-term memory (VSTM) has received intensive study over the past decade, with research focused on VSTM capacity and representational format. Yet, the function of VSTM in human cognition is not well understood. Here, the authors demonstrate that VSTM plays an important role in the control of saccadic eye movements. Intelligent human behavior depends on directing the eyes to goal-relevant objects in the world, yet saccades are very often inaccurate and require correction. The authors hypothesized that VSTM is used to remember the features of the current saccade target so that it can be rapidly reacquired after an errant saccade, a task faced by the visual system thousands of times each day. In 4 experiments, memory-based gaze correction was accurate, fast, automatic, and largely unconscious. In addition, a concurrent VSTM load interfered with memory-based gaze correction, but a verbal short-term memory load did not. These findings demonstrate that VSTM plays a direct role in a fundamentally important aspect of visually guided behavior, and they suggest the existence of previously unknown links between VSTM representations and the occulomotor system.

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