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Removal of irrelevant information from working memory: sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes not at all


Oberauer, Klaus (2018). Removal of irrelevant information from working memory: sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes not at all. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences:Epub ahead of print.

Abstract

To function properly, working memory must be rapidly updated. Updating requires the removal of information no longer relevant. I present six experiments designed to explore the boundary conditions and the time course of removal. A condition in which three out of six memory items can be removed was compared to two baseline conditions in which either three or six items were encoded and maintained in working memory. The time for removal was varied. In experiment 1, in the removal condition, a distinct subset of three words was cued to be irrelevant after encoding all six words. With longer removal time, response times in the removal condition approximated those in the set-size 3 baseline, but accuracies stayed at the set-size 6 level. In experiment 2, in which a random subset of three words was cued as irrelevant, there was no evidence for removal. Experiments 3 and 4 showed that when each item is cued as relevant or irrelevant after its encoding, irrelevant items can be removed rapidly and completely. Experiments 5 and 6 showed that complete removal was no longer possible when words had to be processed before being cued as irrelevant. The pattern of findings can be explained by distinguishing two forms of removal: deactivation removes working-memory contents from the set of competitors for retrieval; unbinding contents from their contexts removes them from working memory entirely, so that they also cease to compete for limited capacity.

Abstract

To function properly, working memory must be rapidly updated. Updating requires the removal of information no longer relevant. I present six experiments designed to explore the boundary conditions and the time course of removal. A condition in which three out of six memory items can be removed was compared to two baseline conditions in which either three or six items were encoded and maintained in working memory. The time for removal was varied. In experiment 1, in the removal condition, a distinct subset of three words was cued to be irrelevant after encoding all six words. With longer removal time, response times in the removal condition approximated those in the set-size 3 baseline, but accuracies stayed at the set-size 6 level. In experiment 2, in which a random subset of three words was cued as irrelevant, there was no evidence for removal. Experiments 3 and 4 showed that when each item is cued as relevant or irrelevant after its encoding, irrelevant items can be removed rapidly and completely. Experiments 5 and 6 showed that complete removal was no longer possible when words had to be processed before being cued as irrelevant. The pattern of findings can be explained by distinguishing two forms of removal: deactivation removes working-memory contents from the set of competitors for retrieval; unbinding contents from their contexts removes them from working memory entirely, so that they also cease to compete for limited capacity.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:12 March 2018
Deposited On:22 Mar 2018 14:40
Last Modified:13 Apr 2018 11:46
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0077-8923
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13603
PubMed ID:29532484

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