Resource-sharing between internal maintenance and external selection modulates attentional capture by working memory content.

Research paper by Anastasia A Kiyonaga, Tobias T Egner

Indexed on: 16 Sep '14Published on: 16 Sep '14Published in: Frontiers in human neuroscience


It is unclear why and under what circumstances working memory (WM) and attention interact. Here, we apply the logic of the time-based resource-sharing (TBRS) model of WM (e.g., Barrouillet et al., 2004) to explore the mixed findings of a separate, but related, literature that studies the guidance of visual attention by WM contents. Specifically, we hypothesize that the linkage between WM representations and visual attention is governed by a time-shared cognitive resource that alternately refreshes internal (WM) and selects external (visual attention) information. If this were the case, WM content should guide visual attention (involuntarily), but only when there is time for it to be refreshed in an internal focus of attention. To provide an initial test for this hypothesis, we examined whether the amount of unoccupied time during a WM delay could impact the magnitude of attentional capture by WM contents. Participants were presented with a series of visual search trials while they maintained a WM cue for a delayed-recognition test. WM cues could coincide with the search target, a distracter, or neither. We varied both the number of searches to be performed, and the amount of available time to perform them. Slowing of visual search by a WM matching distracter-and facilitation by a matching target-were curtailed when the delay was filled with fast-paced (refreshing-preventing) search trials, as was subsequent memory probe accuracy. WM content may, therefore, only capture visual attention when it can be refreshed, suggesting that internal (WM) and external attention demands reciprocally impact one another because they share a limited resource. The TBRS rationale can thus be applied in a novel context to explain why WM contents capture attention, and under what conditions that effect should be observed.