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Cogn Psychol. 2016 Mar;85:30-42. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2016.01.002. Epub 2016 Jan 18.

Resources masquerading as slots: Flexible allocation of visual working memory.

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University of New South Wales, Australia. Electronic address:
University of New South Wales, Australia.


Whether the capacity of visual working memory is better characterized by an item-based or a resource-based account continues to be keenly debated. Here, we propose that visual working memory is a flexible resource that is sometimes deployed in a slot-like manner. We develop a computational model that can either encode all items in a memory set, or encode only a subset of those items. A fixed-capacity mnemonic resource is divided among the items in memory. When fewer items are encoded, they are each remembered with higher fidelity, but at the cost of having to rely on an explicit guessing process when probed about an item that is not in memory. We use the new model to test the prediction that participants will more often encode the entire set of items when the demands on memory are predictable.


Change detection; Hierarchical Bayesian models; Mathematical modeling; Visual working memory

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