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Title: Conceptual knowledge shapes visual working memory for complex visual information

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 is more » closer to “conceptual short-term memory”.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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