Long-term memory guidance of visuospatial attention in a change-detection paradigm

Maya L. Rosen, Boston University
Chantal E. Stern, Boston University
David C. Somers, Boston University


Visual task performance is generally stronger in familiar environments. One reason for this familiarity benefit is that we learn where to direct our visual attention and effective attentional deployment enhances performance. Visual working memory plays a central role in supporting long-term memory guidance of visuospatial attention. We modified a change detection task to create a new paradigm for investigating long-term memory guidance of attention. During the training phase, subjects viewed images in a flicker paradigm and were asked to detect between one and three changes in the images. The test phase required subjects to detect a single change in a one-shot change detection task in which they held all possible locations of changes in visual working memory and deployed attention to those locations to determine if a change occurred. Subjects detected significantly more changes in images for which they had been trained to detect the changes, demonstrating that memory of the images guided subjects in deploying their attention. Moreover, capacity to detect changes was greater for images that had multiple changes during the training phase. In Experiment 2, we observed that capacity to detect changes for the 3-studied change condition increased significantly with more study exposures and capacity was significantly higher than 1, indicating that subjects were able to attend to more than one location. Together, these findings suggest memory and attentional systems interact via working memory such that long-term memory can be used to direct visual spatial attention to multiple locations based on previous experience. © 2014 Rosen, Stern and Somers.