Visual working memory phenomena based on categorical tasks replicate using a continuous measure: A simple interpretation and some methodological considerations

Yanmei Hu, Richard J Allen, Alan D Baddeley, Graham J Hitch

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An increasingly popular method for investigating visuospatial working memory assumes stored features of objects such as color and orientation vary along continua subject to internal noise. It adapts the stimulus adjustment procedure from perceptual psychophysics to assess the precision with which stored features are represented in memory. This contrasts with methods using discrete, categorical measures of feature retention. The current study examined the replicability of some phenomena documented using conventional methodology when assessed using a continuous measure of feature recall. These concern memory for a short series of objects and include effects of recency, prioritizing an individual object, and presenting an irrelevant additional object after the last item (a poststimulus 'suffix'). In two experiments we find broadly similar results using a continuous measure of color-orientation binding to those obtained previously using categorical measures, with small differences we regard as minor. We interpret the convergence between methods in terms of a simple analogy between categorical memory and categorical perception whereby categorical retrieval involves the application of a discrete criterion to an underlying continuum of stored feature information. We conclude by discussing some of the advantages and limitations of continuous and categorical measures of retention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Early online date8 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Feb 2023

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© 2023. The Author(s).

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