The role of attention in remembering important item-location associations
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When encountering an excess of information, people are able to selectively remember high-value information by strategically allocating attention during the encoding period, termed value-directed remembering. This has been demonstrated in both the episodic verbal and visuospatial memory domains. Importantly, the allocation of attention also plays a crucial role in the binding of identity and location information in visuospatial memory. We examined how taxing attentional resources to various degrees during encoding might affect visuospatial memory and selectivity. Participants studied items paired with point values indicating their value in a grid display and were asked to maximize their point score (a summation of the points associated with correctly remembered information). Participants viewed items under either a sequential or simultaneous presentation format and in either the presence or absence of a secondary tone discrimination task. While participants in the divided attention conditions recalled fewer item-location associations overall, participants in all encoding conditions prioritized high-value information in memory, providing further evidence that selectivity can be maintained even when attentional resources are taxed. However, differences between presentation formats emerged when conducting spatial resolution analyses examining errors. Errors in the simultaneous conditions were only influenced by item value when attention was full during encoding, while errors in the sequential conditions were not influenced by item value, regardless of available attentional resources. The results suggest participants can strategically allocate attention during encoding even under cognitively-demanding conditions and that gist-based visuospatial memory may only be influenced by information importance when adequate attentional resources are available.
KeywordsDivided attention Presentation format Selectivity Visuospatial memory
This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute on Aging; Award Number R01 AG044335 to Alan Castel). Portions of this work will be presented at the Psychonomic Society’s 58th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada. The authors would like to thank Adam Blake, Brandon Carone, Mary Hargis, Tyson Kerr, Catherine Middlebrooks, and the rest of the members of the Memory and Lifespan Cognition Laboratory at UCLA for their guidance and support throughout this project.
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