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Visual working memory gives up attentional control early in learning: Ruling out interhemispheric cancellation

Authors

  • Robert M. G. Reinhart,

    1. Department of Psychology, Center for Cognitive and Integrative Neuroscience, Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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  • Nancy B. Carlisle,

    1. Center for Mind and Brain, University of California, Davis, Davis, California, USA
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  • Geoffrey F. Woodman

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Center for Cognitive and Integrative Neuroscience, Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
    • Address correspondence to: Geoffrey F. Woodman, PMB 407817, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240-7817, USA. E-mail: geoffrey.f.woodman@vanderbilt.edu

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  • This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01-EY019882, P30-EY008126, T32-EY007135, and P30-HD015052) and National Science Foundation (BCS-0957072). We thank Julianna Ianni and Laura McClenahan for help with data collection, and Tom Palmeri for a useful question.

Abstract

Current research suggests that we can watch visual working memory surrender the control of attention early in the process of learning to search for a specific object. This inference is based on the observation that the contralateral delay activity (CDA) rapidly decreases in amplitude across trials when subjects search for the same target object. Here, we tested the alternative explanation that the role of visual working memory does not actually decline across learning, but instead lateralized representations accumulate in both hemispheres across trials and wash out the lateralized CDA. We show that the decline in CDA amplitude occurred even when the target objects were consistently lateralized to a single visual hemifield. Our findings demonstrate that reductions in the amplitude of the CDA during learning are not simply due to the dilution of the CDA from interhemispheric cancellation.

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