A direct comparison of central tendency recall and temporal integration in the successive field iconic memory task

Jacob Zepp, Chad Dubé, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ensemble coding literature suggests the existence of a fast, automatic formation of some ensemble codes. Can statistical representations, such as memory for the central tendency along a particular visual feature dimension, be extracted from information held in the sensory register? Furthermore, can knowledge of early, iconic memory processes be used to determine how central tendency is extracted? We focused on the potential role of visible persistence mechanisms that support temporal integration. We tested whether mean orientation could be accurately recalled from brief visual displays using the successive field task. On separate blocks of trials, participants were asked to report the location of a split element (requiring differentiation of frames), a missing element (requiring integration across frames), and the average orientation of elements pooled across both frames (central tendency recall). Results replicate the expected tradeoff between differentiation and integration performance across inter-frame interval (IFI). In contrast, precision of mean estimates was high and invariant across IFIs. A manipulation of within-frame distributional similarity coupled with simulations using 12 models supported 2-item subsampling. The results argue against the “strategic” interpretation of subsampling since 2-item readout was predicted by information theoretic estimates of STM encoding rate: the 2 items were not from a superset in STM. Most crucially, the results argue against the various early “preattentive/parallel/global pooling” accounts and instead suggest that non-selective readout of information from iconic memory supplies a relatively small amount of item information to STM, and it is only at this point that the computation of ensemble averages begins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1337-1356
Number of pages20
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Attention: Interactions with Memory
  • Short term memory
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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