Research Articles

Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 72, Issue 8, pp 2289-2303

First online:

Updating and feature overwriting in short-term memory for timbre

  • Mercer Tom Affiliated withInstitute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds Email author 
  • , McKeown Denis Affiliated withInstitute of Psychological Sciences, University of Leeds


Previous research has demonstrated a potent, stimulus-specific form of interference in short-term auditory memory. This effect has been interpreted in terms of interitem confusion and grouping, but the present experiments suggested that interference might be afeature-specific phenomenon. Participants compared standard and comparison tones over a 10-sec interval and were required to determine whether they differed in timbre. A single interfering distractor tone was presented either 50 msec or 8 sec after the offset of the standard (Experiment 1) or 2 sec prior to its onset (Experiment 2). The distractor varied in the number of features it shared with the standard and comparison, and this proved critical, since performance on the task was greatly impaired when the distractor either consisted of novel, unshared features (Experiment 1) or contained the distinguishing feature of the comparison tone (Experiments 1 and 2). These findings were incompatible with earlier accounts of forgetting but were fully explicable by the recent timbre memory model, which associates interference in short-term auditory memory with an “updating” process and feature overwriting. These results suggest similarities with the mechanisms that underlie forgetting in verbal short-term memory.