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Psychon Bull Rev. 2016 Oct;23(5):1520-1527.

Reducing failures of working memory with performance feedback.

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University of Chicago, 940 E 57th St, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA.
University of Chicago, 940 E 57th St, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA.


Fluctuations in attentional control can lead to failures of working memory (WM), in which the subject is no better than chance at reporting items from a recent display. In three experiments, we used a whole-report measure of visual WM to examine the impact of feedback on the rate of failures. In each experiment, subjects remembered an array of colored items across a blank delay, and then reported the identity of items using a whole-report procedure. In Experiment 1, we gave subjects simple feedback about the number of items they correctly identified at the end of each trial. In Experiment 2, we gave subjects additional information about the cumulative number of items correctly identified within each block. Finally, in Experiment 3, we gave subjects weighted feedback in which poor trials resulted in lost points and consistent successful performance received "streak" points. Surprisingly, simple feedback (Exp. 1) was ineffective at improving average performance or decreasing the rate of poor-performance trials. Simple cumulative feedback (Exp. 2) modestly decreased poor-performance trials (by 7 %). Weighted feedback produced the greatest benefits, decreasing the frequency of poor-performance trials by 28 % relative to baseline performance. This set of results demonstrates the usefulness of whole-report WM measures for investigating the effects of feedback on WM performance. Further, we showed that only a feedback structure that specifically discouraged lapses using negative feedback led to large reductions in WM failures.


Cognitive and attentional control; Feedback; Visual working memory

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