Human visual working memory (VWM) is a memory store people use to maintain the visual features of objects and scenes. Although it is obvious that bottom-up information influences VWM, the extent to which top-down conceptual information influences VWM is largely unknown. We report an experiment in which groups of participants were trained in one of two different categories of geologic faults (left/right lateral, or normal/reverse faults), or received no category training. Following training, participants performed a visual change detection task in which category knowledge was irrelevant to the task. Participants were more likely to detect a change in geologic scenes when the changes crossed a trained categorical distinction (e.g., the left/right lateral fault boundary), compared to within-category changes. In addition, participants trained to distinguish left/right lateral faults were more likely to detect changes when the scenes were mirror images along the left/right dimension. Similarly, participants trained to distinguish normal/reverse faults were more likely to detect changes when scenes were mirror images along the normal/reverse dimension. Our results provide direct empirical evidence that conceptual knowledge influences VWM performance for complex visual information. An implication of our results is that cognitive scientists may need to reconceptualize VWM so that it ismore »
Influences of both prior knowledge and recent history on visual working memory
Existing knowledge shapes and distorts our memories, serving as a prior for newly encoded information. Here, we investigate the role of stable long-term priors (e.g. categorical knowledge) in conjunction with priors arising from recently encountered information (e.g. ’serial dependence’) in visual working memory for color. We use an iterated reproduction paradigm to allow a model-free assessment of the role of such priors. In Experiment 1, we find that participants’ reports reliably converge to certain areas of color space, but that this convergence is largely distinct for different individuals, suggesting responses are biased by more than just shared category knowledge. In Experiment 2, we explicitly manipulate trial n-1 and find recent history plays a major role in participants’ reports. Thus, we find that both global prior knowledge and recent trial information have biasing influences on visual working memory, demonstrating an important role for both shortand long-term priors in actively maintained information.
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