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Proactive Interference Does Not Meaningfully Distort Visual Working Memory Capacity Estimates in the Canonical Change Detection Task

By Po-Han Lin and Steven J. Luck


The change detection task has become a standard method for estimating the storage capacity of visual working memory. Most researchers assume that this task isolates the properties of an active short-term storage system that can be dissociated from long-term memory systems. However, long-term memory storage may influence performance on this task. In particular, memory traces from previous trials may create proactive interference that sometimes leads to errors, thereby reducing estimated capacity. Consequently, the capacity of visual working memory may be higher than is usually thought, and correlations between capacity and other measures of cognition may reflect individual differences in proactive interference rather than individual differences in the capacity of the short-term storage system. Indeed, previous research has shown that change detection performance can be influenced by proactive interference under some conditions. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether the canonical version of the change detection task – in which the to-be-remembered information consists of simple, briefly presented features – is influenced by proactive interference. Two experiments were conducted using methods that ordinarily produce substantial evidence of proactive interference, but no proactive interference was observed. Thus, the canonical version of the change detection task can be used to assess visual working memory capacity with no meaningful influence of proactive interference

Topics: Psychology
Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation
OAI identifier:
Provided by: PubMed Central

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