Working memory retains visual details despite distractions
Jan 21, 2006 - 9:59:37 PM

The ability to retain memory about the details of a natural scene is unaffected by the distraction of another activity and this information is retained in "working memory" according to a study recently published in Journal of Vision, an online, free access publication of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). These results reinforce the notion that humans maintain useful information about previous fixations in long-term working memory rather than the limited capacity of visual short-term memory (VSTM).

Memory has traditionally been divided into VSTM and long-term memory (LTM). VSTM usually involves the retention of about four objects at a time. This is followed by either information loss or the transfer of this information into LTM. This study provides further evidence that an intermediary "working memory" better describes the nature of information retained while engaged in a particular task.

In the study conducted by Oxford Brookes University Professor David Melcher, participants were asked to view a photograph of a natural scene for 10 seconds. Following the initial viewing, they were asked to silently read a paragraph for 60 seconds, repeating if necessary, or view an image with five colored square for 60 seconds. The participants were then asked questions about the first scene they had viewed. The results show that the addition of the reading task had no measurable influence on the average performance for either color, shape or location questions compared to other trials which involved just a 10-second delay between the viewing and the testing.

According to Melcher, "These results provide further evidence that visual scenes are special and that memory for real scenes involves a system with different properties than that used for words or simple shapes. We are currently examining how this memory system develops in children, how it is affected by aging and how it interacts with attention and disorders of attention."

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