Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 346–364

Visual short-term memory operates more efficiently on boundary features than on surface features


DOI: 10.3758/PP.70.2.346

Cite this article as:
Alvarez, G.A. & Cavanagh, P. Perception & Psychophysics (2008) 70: 346. doi:10.3758/PP.70.2.346


A change detection task was used to estimate the visual short-term memory storage capacity for either the orientation or the size of objects. On each trial, several objects were briefly presented, followed by a blank interval and then by a second display of objects that either was identical to the first display or had a single object that was different (the object changed either orientation or size, in separate experiments). The task was to indicate whether the two displays were the same or different, and the number of objects remembered was estimated from the percent correct on this task. Storage capacity for a feature was nearly twice as large when that feature was defined by the object boundary, rather than by the surface texture of the object. This dramatic difference in storage capacity suggests that a particular feature (e.g., right tilted or small) is not stored in memory with an invariant abstract code. Instead, there appear to be different codes for the boundary and surface features of objects, and memory operates on boundary features more efficiently than it operates on surface features.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 46-4078Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridge
  3. 3.Université Paris DescartesParisFrance

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