Attentional priority determines working memory precision

Zuzanna Klyszejko, Masih Rahmati, Clayton E. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual working memory is a system used to hold information actively in mind for a limited time. The number of items and the precision with which we can store information has limits that define its capacity. How much control do we have over the precision with which we store information when faced with these severe capacity limitations? Here, we tested the hypothesis that rank-ordered attentional priority determines the precision of multiple working memory representations. We conducted two psychophysical experiments that manipulated the priority of multiple items in a two-alternative forced choice task (2AFC) with distance discrimination. In Experiment 1, we varied the probabilities with which memorized items were likely to be tested. To generalize the effects of priority beyond simple cueing, in Experiment 2, we manipulated priority by varying monetary incentives contingent upon successful memory for items tested. Moreover, we illustrate our hypothesis using a simple model that distributed attentional resources across items with rank-ordered priorities. Indeed, we found evidence in both experiments that priority affects the precision of working memory in a monotonic fashion. Our results demonstrate that representations of priority may provide a mechanism by which resources can be allocated to increase the precision with which we encode and briefly store information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-76
Number of pages7
JournalVision research
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • Attention
  • Capacity
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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