We use a vibrotactile-delayed match-to-sample paradigm to evaluate the effects of interference on working memory. One of the suggested mechanisms through which interference affects performance in working memory is feature overwriting: Short-term representations are maintained in a finite set of feature units (such as prefrontal neurons), and distractor stimuli co-opt some or all of those units, degrading the stored representation of an earlier stimulus. Subjects were presented with two vibrotactile stimuli and were instructed to determine whether they were of the same or different frequencies. A distractor stimulus was presented between the target and probe stimuli, the frequency of which was a function of the target stimulus. Performance on the task was affected by the frequency of the distractor, with subjects making more erroneous same judgments on different trials when the distractor frequency was closer to the probe than to the target, than when the distractor was further from the probe than the target. The results suggest that the frequency of the distractor partially overwrites the stored frequency information of the probe stimulus, providing support for the feature-overwriting explanation of working memory interference.
Tactile working memory Vibrotactile perception Interference Frequency
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This work was supported by the Canada Research Chairs program (PS) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (PS). We thank William Hockley and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments. We thank Wendell Prime for technical assistance.
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