Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 80, Issue 5, pp 1157–1168 | Cite as

Memory guidance in distractor suppression is governed by the availability of cognitive control

  • Wen Wen
  • Yin Hou
  • Sheng Li


Information stored in the memory systems can affect visual search. Previous studies have shown that holding the to-be-ignored features of distractors in working memory (WM) could accelerate target selection. However, such facilitation effect was only observed when the cued to-be-ignored features remained unchanged within an experimental block (i.e., the fixed cue condition). No search benefit was obtained if the to-be-ignored features varied from trial to trial (i.e., the varied cue condition). In the present study, we conducted three behavioral experiments to investigate whether the WM and long-term memory (LTM) representations of the to-be-ignored features could facilitate visual search in the fixed cue (Experiment 1) and varied cue (Experiments 2 and 3) conditions. Given the importance of the processing time of cognitive control in distractor suppression, we divided visual search trials into five quintiles based on their reaction times (RTs) and examined the temporal characteristics of the suppression effect. Results showed that both the WM and LTM representations of the to-be-ignored features could facilitate distractor suppression in the fixed cue condition, and the facilitation effects were evident across the quintiles in the RT distribution. However, in the varied cue condition, the RT benefits of the WM-matched distractors occurred only in the trials with the longest RTs, whereas no advantage of the LTM-matched distractors was observed. These results suggest that the effective WM-guided distractor suppression depends on the availability of cognitive control and the LTM-guided suppression occurs only if sufficient WM resource is accessible by LTM reactivation.


Attention and memory Cognitive and attentional control Visual search 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31470974, 31230029) and the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFB1002503).


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Psychological and Cognitive SciencesPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental HealthPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain ResearchPeking UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Machine Perception (Ministry of Education)Peking UniversityBeijingChina
  5. 5.Department of Psychology, School of Sociology and PsychologyCentral University of Finance and EconomicsBeijingChina

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