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Little Support for Discrete Item Limits in Visual Working Memory


Oberauer, Klaus (2022). Little Support for Discrete Item Limits in Visual Working Memory. Psychological Science, 33(7):1128-1142.

Abstract

Some theorists argue that working memory is limited to a discrete number of items and that additional items are not encoded at all. Adam et al. (2017) presented evidence supporting this hypothesis: Participants reproduced visual features of up to six items in a self-chosen order. After the third or fourth response, error distributions were indistinguishable from guessing. I present four experiments with young adults (each N = 24) reexamining this finding. Experiment 1 presented items slowly and sequentially. Experiment 2 presented them simultaneously but longer than in the experiments of Adam et al. Experiments 3 and 4 exactly replicated one original experiment of Adam et al. All four experiments failed to replicate the evidence for guessing-like error distributions. Modeling data from individuals revealed a mixture of some who do and others who do not produce guessing-like distributions. This heterogeneity increases the credibility of an alternative to the item-limit hypothesis: Some individuals decide to guess on hard trials even when they have weak information in memory.

Abstract

Some theorists argue that working memory is limited to a discrete number of items and that additional items are not encoded at all. Adam et al. (2017) presented evidence supporting this hypothesis: Participants reproduced visual features of up to six items in a self-chosen order. After the third or fourth response, error distributions were indistinguishable from guessing. I present four experiments with young adults (each N = 24) reexamining this finding. Experiment 1 presented items slowly and sequentially. Experiment 2 presented them simultaneously but longer than in the experiments of Adam et al. Experiments 3 and 4 exactly replicated one original experiment of Adam et al. All four experiments failed to replicate the evidence for guessing-like error distributions. Modeling data from individuals revealed a mixture of some who do and others who do not produce guessing-like distributions. This heterogeneity increases the credibility of an alternative to the item-limit hypothesis: Some individuals decide to guess on hard trials even when they have weak information in memory.

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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
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > General Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 July 2022
Deposited On:02 Dec 2022 09:37
Last Modified:27 Feb 2024 02:51
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:0956-7976
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/09567976211068045
PubMed ID:35713322
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)