No evidence for binding of items to task-irrelevant backgrounds in visual working memory

Rob Udale, Simon Farrell, Christopher Kent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


When representing visual features such as color and shape in visual working memory (VWM), participants also represent the locations of those features as a spatial configuration of the locations of those features in the display. In everyday life, we encounter objects against some background, yet it is unclear whether the configural representation in memory obligatorily constitutes the entire display, including that (often task-irrelevant) background information. In three experiments, participants completed a change detection task on color and shape; the memoranda were presented in front of uniform gray backgrounds, a textured background (Exp. 1), or a background containing location placeholders (Exps. 2 and 3). When whole-display probes were presented, changes to the objects’ locations or feature bindings impacted memory performance—implying that the spatial configuration of the probes influenced participants’ change decisions. Furthermore, when only a single item was probed, the effect of changing its location or feature bindings was either diminished or completely extinguished, implying that single probes do not necessarily elicit the entire spatial configuration. Critically, when task-irrelevant backgrounds were also presented that may have provided a spatial configuration for the single probes, the effect of location or bindings was not moderated. These findings suggest that although the spatial configuration of a display guides VWM-based recognition, this information does not necessarily always influence the decision process during change detection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1144–1159
Number of pages16
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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