An ongoing debate concerns whether visual object representations are relatively abstract, relatively specific, both abstract and specific within a unified system, or abstract and specific in separate and dissociable neural subsystems. Most of the evidence for the dissociable subsystems theory has come from experiments that used familiar shapes, and the usage of familiar shapes has allowed for alternative explanations for the results. Thus, we examined abstract and specific visual working memory when the stimuli were novel objects viewed for the first and only time. When participants judged whether cues and probes belonged to the same abstract visual category, they performed more accurately when the probes were presented directly to the left hemisphere than when they were presented directly to the right hemisphere. In contrast, when participants judged whether or not cues and probes were the same specific visual exemplar, they performed more accurately when the probes were presented directly to the right hemisphere than when they were presented directly to the left hemisphere. For the first time, results from experiments using visual working memory tasks support the dissociable subsystems theory.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this work came from the Center for Cognitive Sciences in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (GER 9454163), the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota, and the National Institute of Mental Health, Grants MH53959 and MH60442.