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Interference with visual short-term memory

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Publication details

JournalActa psychologica
DatePublished - 1990
Issue number1
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)55-74
Original languageEnglish


Working memory (Baddeley and Hitch 1974) incorporates the notion of a visuo-spatial sketch pad; a mechanism thought to be specialized for short-term storage of visuo-spatial material. However, the nature and characteristics of this hypothesized mechanism are as yet unclear. Two experiments are reported which examined selective interference in short-term visual memory. Experiment 1 contrasted recognition memory span for visual matrix patterns with that for visually presented letter sequences. These two span tasks were combined with concurrent arithmetic or a concurrent task which involved manipulation of visuo-spatial material. Results suggested that although there was a small, significant disruption by concurrent arithmetic of span for the matrix patterns, there was a substantially larger disruption of the letter span task. The converse was true for the secondary visuo-spatial task. Experiment 2 combined the span tasks with two established tasks developed by Brooks (1967). Span for matrix patterns was disrupted by a visuo-spatial task but not by a secondary verbal task. The converse was true for letter span. These results suggest that the impairment in short-term visual memory resulting from secondary arithmetic reflects a small general processing load, but that the selective interference due to mode of processing is by far the stronger effect. Results are interpreted as being entirely consistent with the notion of a specialized visuo-spatial mechanism in working memory.

    Research areas

  • Adult, Attention, Discrimination Learning, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Middle Aged, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Serial Learning

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