The question of whether visual working memory (VWM) stores individual features or bound objects as basic units is actively debated. Evidence exists for both feature-based and object-based storages, as well as hierarchically organized representations maintaining both types of information at different levels. One argument for feature-based storage is that features belonging to different dimensions (e.g., color and orientations) can be stored without interference suggesting independent capacities for every dimension. Here, we studied whether the lack of cross-dimensional interference reflects genuinely independent feature storages or mediated by common objects. In three experiments, participants remembered and recalled the colors and orientations of sets of objects. We independently manipulated set sizes within each feature dimension (making colors and orientations either identical or differing across objects). Critically, we assigned to-be-remembered colors and orientations either to same spatially integrated or to different spatially separated objects. We found that the precision and recall probability within each dimension was not affected by set size manipulations in a different dimension when the features belonged to integrated objects. However, manipulations with color set sizes did affect orientation memory when the features were separated. We conclude therefore that different feature dimensions can be encoded and stored independently but the advantage of the independent storages are mediated at the object-based level. This conclusion is consistent with the idea of hierarchically organized VWM.
Ocular drift along the mental number line.
In their recent paper, Marchant, Simons, and De Fockert (2013) claimed that the ability to average between multiple items of different sizes is limited by small samples of arbitrarily attended members of a set. This claim is based on a finding that observers are good at representing the average when an ensemble includes only two sizes distributed among all items (regular sets), but their performance gets worse when the number of sizes increases with the number of items (irregular sets). We argue that an important factor not considered by Marchant et al. (2013) is the range of size variation that was much bigger in their irregular sets. We manipulated this factor across our experiments and found almost the same efficiency of averaging for both regular and irregular sets when the range was stabilized. Moreover, highly regular sets consisting only of small and large items (two-peaks distributions) were averaged with greater error than sets with small, large, and intermediate items, suggesting a segmentation threshold determining whether all variable items are perceived as a single ensemble or distinct subsets. Our results demonstrate that averaging can actually be parallel but the visual system has some difficulties with it when some items differ too much from others.
Visual search for multiple targets can cause errors called subsequent search misses (SSM) – a decrease in accuracy at detecting a second target after a first target has been found. One of the possible explanations of SSM errors is perceptual set. After the first target has been found, the subject becomes biased to find perceptually similar targets, therefore he is more likely to find perceptually similar targets and less likely to find the targets that are perceptually dissimilar. This study investigated the role of perceptual similarity in SSM errors. The search array in each trial consisted of 20 stimuli (ellipses and crosses, black and white, small and big, oriented horizontally and vertically), which could contain one, two or no targets. In case of two targets, the targets could have two, three or four shared features (in the last case the targets were identical). The error rate decreased with increasing the similarity between the targets. These results state the role of perceptual similarity and have implications for the perceptual set theory.
Motor sequence learning is considered the result of the outflow of information following cognitive control processes that are shared by other goal-directed behaviours. Emerging evidence suggests that focused-attention meditation (FAM) establishes states of enhanced cognitive control, that then exert top-down control biases in subsequent unrelated tasks. With respect to sequence learning, a single-session of FAM has been shown to entrain stimulus-dependent forms of sequential behaviour in meditation naïve individuals. In the present experiment, we compared single-session effects of FAM and a computerised attention task (CAT) to test if FAM-induced enhanced top-down control is generally comparable to cognitive tasks that require focused attention. We also investigated if effort, arousal or pleasure associated with FAM, or CAT explained the influence of these tasks on sequence learning. Relative to a rest-only control condition, both FAM and CAT resulted in shorter reaction time (RT) in a serial reaction time task (SRTT), and this enhanced RT performance was associated with higher reliance on stimulus-based planning as opposed to sequence representation formation. However, following FAM, a greater rate of improvement in RT performance was observed in comparison to both CAT and control conditions. Neither effort, arousal nor pleasure associated with FAM or CAT explained SRTT performance. These findings were interpreted to suggest that the effect of FAM states on increased top-down control during sequence learning is based on the focused attention control feature of this meditation. FAM states might be associated with enhanced cognitive control to promote the development of more efficient stimulus-response processing in comparison to states induced by other attentional tasks.
We investigated automatic Spatial–Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) effect in auditory number processing. Two experiments continually measured spatial characteristics of ocular drift at central fixation during and after auditory number presentation. Consistent with the notion of a spatially oriented mental number line, we found spontaneous magnitude-dependent gaze adjustments, both with and without a concurrent saccadic task. This fixation adjustment (1) had a small-number/left-lateralized bias and (2) it was biphasic as it emerged for a short time around the point of lexical access and it received later robust representation around following number onset. This pattern suggests a two-step mechanism of sensorimotor mapping between numbers and space — a first-pass bottom-up activation followed by a top-down and more robust horizontal SNARC. Our results inform theories of number processing as well as simulation-based approaches to cognition by identifying the characteristics of anoculomotor resonance phenomenon.