Effects of changing object identity on location working memory

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7 Scopus citations


It is widely accepted that features and locations are represented independently in an initial stage of visual processing. But to what degree are they represented separately at a later stage, after objects enter visual working memory (VWM)? In one of her last studies on VWM, Treisman raised an open question about how people represent locations in VWM, suggesting that locations may be remembered independently of what occupies them. Using photographs of real-world objects, we tested the independence of location memory from object identity in a location change detection task. We introduced changes to object identities between the encoding and test arrays, but instructed participants to treat the objects as placeholders. Three experiments showed that location memory was disrupted when the placeholders changed shape or orientation. The disruption was more noticeable for elongated than for round placeholders and was comparable between real-world objects and rectangles of similar aspect ratio. These findings suggest that location representation is sensitive to the placeholders’ geometric properties. Though they contradict the idea that objects are just placeholders in location working memory (WM), the findings support Treisman’s proposal that the items in VWM are bound to the global configuration of the memory array.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-311
Number of pages18
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Attention
  • Feature integration theory
  • Visual working memory


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