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J Vis. 2014 Apr 2;14(4). pii: 2. doi: 10.1167/14.4.2.

Variability in visual working memory ability limits the efficiency of perceptual decision making.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.


The ability to make rapid and accurate decisions based on limited sensory information is a critical component of visual cognition. Available evidence suggests that simple perceptual discriminations are based on the accumulation and integration of sensory evidence over time. However, the memory system(s) mediating this accumulation are unclear. One candidate system is working memory (WM), which enables the temporary maintenance of information in a readily accessible state. Here, we show that individual variability in WM capacity is strongly correlated with the speed of evidence accumulation in speeded two-alternative forced choice tasks. This relationship generalized across different decision-making tasks, and could not be easily explained by variability in general arousal or vigilance. Moreover, we show that performing a difficult discrimination task while maintaining a concurrent memory load has a deleterious effect on the latter, suggesting that WM storage and decision making are directly linked.


decision making; individual differences; visual memory

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