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Psychol Res. 1997;60(4):244-50.

Independent coding of target distance and direction in visuo-spatial working memory.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Fisiologia Umana e Funzioni Biologiche Integrate Filippo Bottazzi, II Universit√† di Napoli, Italy.


The organization of manual reaching movements suggests considerable independence in the initial programming with respect to the direction and the distance of the intended movement. It was hypothesized that short-term memory for a visually-presented location within reaching space, in the absence of other allocentric reference points, might also be represented in a motoric code, showing similar independence in the encoding of direction and distance. This hypothesis was tested in two experiments, using adult human subjects who were required to remember the location of a briefly presented luminous spot. Stimuli were presented in the dark, thus providing purely egocentric spatial information. After the specified delay, subjects were instructed to point to the remembered location. In Exp. 1, temporal decay of location memory was studied, over a range of 4-30 s. The results showed that (a) memory for both the direction and the distance of the visual target location declined over time, at about the same rate for both parameters; however, (b) errors of distance were much greater in the left than in the right hemispace, whereas direction errors showed no such effect; (c) the distance and direction errors were essentially uncorrelated, at all delays. These findings suggest independent representation of these two parameters in working memory. In Exp. 2 the subjects were required to remember the locations of two visual stimuli presented sequentially, one after the other. Only after both stimuli had been presented did the subject receive a signal from the experimenter as to which one was to be pointed to. The results showed that the encoding of a second location selectively interfered with memory for the direction but not for the distance of the to-be-remembered target location. As in Exp. 1, direction and distance errors were again uncorrelated. The results of both experiments indicate that memory for egocentrically-specified visual locations can encode the direction and distance of the target independently. Use of motor-related representation in spatial working memory is thus strongly suggested. The findings are discussed in the context of multiple representations of space in visuo-spatial short-term memory.

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