Similarity effects in visual working memory

Yuhong V Jiang, Hyejin J. Lee, Anthony Asaad, Roger Remington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Perceptual similarity is an important property of multiple stimuli. Its computation supports a wide range of cognitive functions, including reasoning, categorization, and memory recognition. It is important, therefore, to determine why previous research has found conflicting effects of inter-item similarity on visual working memory. Studies reporting a similarity advantage have used simple stimuli whose similarity varied along a featural continuum. Studies reporting a similarity disadvantage have used complex stimuli from either a single or multiple categories. To elucidate stimulus conditions for similarity effects in visual working memory, we tested memory for complex stimuli (faces) whose similarity varied along a morph continuum. Participants encoded 3 morphs generated from a single face identity in the similar condition, or 3 morphs generated from different face identities in the dissimilar condition. After a brief delay, a test face appeared at one of the encoding locations for participants to make a same/different judgment. Two experiments showed that similarity enhanced memory accuracy without changing the response criterion. These findings support previous computational models that incorporate featural variance as a component of working memory load. They delineate limitations of models that emphasize cortical resources or response decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-482
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Change detection
  • Face memory
  • Similarity
  • Visual working memory


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