Brief Reports

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 269-274

First online:

Visual search is slowed when visuospatial working memory is occupied

  • Geoffrey F. WoodmanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Vanderbilt University Email author 
  • , Steven J. LuckAffiliated withUniversity of Iowa


Visual working memory plays a central role in most models of visual search. However, a recent study showed that search efficiency was not impaired when working memory was filled to capacity by a concurrent object memory task (Woodman, Vogel, & Luck, 2001). Objects and locations may be stored in separate working memory subsystems, and it is plausible that visual search relies on the spatial subsystem, but not on the object subsystem. In the present study, we sought to determine whether maintaining spatial information in visual working memory impairs the efficiency of a concurrent visual search task. Visual search efficiency and spatial memory accuracy were both impaired when the search and the memory tasks were performed concurrently, as compared with when the tasks were performed separately. These findings suggest that common mechanisms are used to process information during difficult visual search tasks and to maintain spatial information in working memory.