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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2009 Dec;35(6):1687-97. doi: 10.1037/a0016453.

The role of visual working memory in attentive tracking of unique objects.

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Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, N218 Elliott Hall, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


When tracking moving objects in space humans usually attend to the objects' spatial locations and update this information over time. To what extent do surface features assist attentive tracking? In this study we asked participants to track identical or uniquely colored objects. Tracking was enhanced when objects were unique in color. The benefit was greater when the distance between distractors and targets was smaller, but was eliminated when the objects changed colors 1 to 4 times per second, even though at any instant they were always uniquely colored. In addition, tracking uniquely colored objects impaired a secondary color-memory task more than tracking identical objects, and holding several colors in working memory eliminated the advantage of tracking uniquely colored objects. Contrary to previous studies showing that feature information is poorly retained during tracking, these findings indicate that surface properties are stored in visual working memory to facilitate tracking performance.

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