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Psychol Sci. 2012 Aug 1;23(8):887-98. doi: 10.1177/0956797612439068. Epub 2012 Jul 3.

Simultaneous control of attention by multiple working memory representations.

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University of California, Davis, USA.


Working memory representations play a key role in controlling attention by making it possible to shift attention to task-relevant objects. Visual working memory has a capacity of three to four objects, but recent studies suggest that only one representation can guide attention at a given moment. We directly tested this proposal by monitoring eye movements while observers performed a visual search task in which they attempted to limit attention to objects drawn in two colors. When the observers were motivated to attend to one color at a time, they searched many consecutive items of one color (long run lengths) and exhibited a delay prior to switching gaze from one color to the other (switch cost). In contrast, when they were motivated to attend to both colors simultaneously, observers' gaze switched back and forth between the two colors frequently (short run lengths), with no switch cost. Thus, multiple working memory representations can concurrently guide attention.

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