What happens to an individual visual working memory representation when it is interrupted?

Gi Yeul Bae, Steven J. Luck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This study tested the hypothesis that even the simplest cognitive tasks require the storage of information in working memory (WM), distorting any information that was previously stored in WM. Experiment 1 tested this hypothesis by requiring observers to perform a simple letter discrimination task while they were holding a single orientation in WM. We predicted that performing the task on the interposed letter stimulus would cause the orientation memory to become less precise and more categorical compared to when the letter was absent or when it was present but could be ignored. This prediction was confirmed. Experiment 2 tested the modality specificity of this effect by replacing the visual letter discrimination task with an auditory pitch discrimination task. Unlike the interposed visual stimulus, the interposed auditory stimulus produced little or no disruption of WM, consistent with the use of modality-specific representations. Thus, performing a simple visual discrimination task, but not a simple auditory discrimination task, distorts information about a single feature being maintained in visual WM. We suggest that the interposed task eliminates information stored within the focus of attention, leaving behind a WM representation outside the focus of attention that is relatively imprecise and categorical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-287
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • categorical bias
  • interruption
  • working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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