, Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 687-699,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 13 Feb 2013

Guidance of attention by information held in working memory


Information held in working memory (WM) can guide attention during visual search. The authors of recent studies have interpreted the effect of holding verbal labels in WM as guidance of visual attention by semantic information. In a series of experiments, we tested how attention is influenced by visual features versus category-level information about complex objects held in WM. Participants either memorized an object’s image or its category. While holding this information in memory, they searched for a target in a four-object search display. On exact-match trials, the memorized item reappeared as a distractor in the search display. On category-match trials, another exemplar of the memorized item appeared as a distractor. On neutral trials, none of the distractors were related to the memorized object. We found attentional guidance in visual search on both exact-match and category-match trials in Experiment 1, in which the exemplars were visually similar. When we controlled for visual similarity among the exemplars by using four possible exemplars (Exp. 2) or by using two exemplars rated as being visually dissimilar (Exp. 3), we found attentional guidance only on exact-match trials when participants memorized the object’s image. The same pattern of results held when the target was invariant (Exps. 23) and when the target was defined semantically and varied in visual features (Exp. 4). The findings of these experiments suggest that attentional guidance by WM requires active visual information.