"Memory compression” effects in visual working memory are contingent on explicit long-term memory

Published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2019

Recommended citation: Ngiam, W. X. Q., Brissenden, J. A., & Awh, E. (2019). "Memory compression" effects in visual working memory are contingent on explicit long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000649 https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000649

Abstract

Brady, Konkle and Alvarez (2009) argued that statistical learning boosts the number of colors that can be held online in visual working memory (WM). They showed that when specific colors are consistently paired together in a WM task, subjects can take optimal advantage of these regularities to recall more colors, an effect they labelled “memory compression”. They proposed that memory compression is a product of visual statistical learning, an automatic apprehension of statistical regularities that has been shown in prior work to be disconnected from explicit learning. If statistical learning enables an expansion of the number of individuated representations in visual WM, it would require revision of virtually all models of capacity in this online memory system. That said, this provocative claim is inconsistent with multiple studies that have found no improvement in WM performance following numerous repetitions of specific sample displays (e.g., Olson and Jiang, 2004; Logie, Brockmole and Vandenbroucke, 2009). Here, we replicate the Brady et al. findings but show that memory compression effects were restricted to subjects who had perfect explicit recall of the color pairs at the end of the study, suggesting that statistical regularities boosted performance by enabling contributions from long term memory. Thus, while memory compression effects provide an interesting example of the tight collaboration between online and offline memory representations, they do not provide evidence that statistical regularities can augment the number of individuated representations that can be concurrently stored in visual WM.

View Preprint