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Adv Cogn Psychol. 2008 Jul 15;3(4):429-48. doi: 10.2478/v10053-008-0007-2.

Attentional demand influences strategies for encoding into visual working memory.

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Laboratory for Neurophysiology and Neuroimaging, Department of Psychiatry, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Frankfurt, Germany.


Visual selective attention and visual working memory (WM) share the same capacity-limited resources. We investigated whether and how participants can cope with a task in which these 2 mechanisms interfere. The task required participants to scan an array of 9 objects in order to select the target locations and to encode the items presented at these locations into WM (1 to 5 shapes). Determination of the target locations required either few attentional resources ("popout condition") or an attention-demanding serial search ("non pop-out condition"). Participants were able to achieve high memory performance in all stimulation conditions but, in the non popout conditions, this came at the cost of additional processing time. Both empirical evidence and subjective reports suggest that participants invested the additional time in memorizing the locations of all target objects prior to the encoding of their shapes into WM. Thus, they seemed to be unable to interleave the steps of search with those of encoding. We propose that the memory for target locations substitutes for perceptual pop-out and thus may be the key component that allows for flexible coping with the common processing limitations of visual WM and attention. The findings have implications for understanding how we cope with real-life situations in which the demands on visual attention and WM occur simultaneously.


attention; encoding strategies; interference; working memory

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