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Psychol Sci. 2013 Jul 1;24(7):1104-12. doi: 10.1177/0956797612466414. Epub 2013 May 7.

Foraging for thought: an inhibition-of-return-like effect resulting from directing attention within working memory.

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Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Yale University, USA.


Perceptual processing of a target stimulus may be inhibited if its location has just been cued, a phenomenon of spatial attention known as inhibition of return (IOR). In the research reported here, we demonstrated a striking effect, wherein items that have just been the focus of reflective attention (internal attention to an active representation) also are inhibited. Participants saw two items, followed by a cue to think back to (i.e., refresh, or direct reflective attention toward) one item, and then had to identify either the refreshed item, the unrefreshed item, or a novel item. Responses were significantly slower for refreshed items than for unrefreshed items, although refreshed items were better remembered on a later memory test. Control experiments in which we replaced the refresh event with a second presentation of one of the words did not show similar effects. These results suggest that reflective attention can produce an inhibition effect for attended items that may be analogous to IOR effects in perceptual attention.


attention; memory; refreshing; short-term memory

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