Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 674–680 | Cite as

Evidence for spontaneous serial refreshing in verbal working memory?

  • Evie Vergauwe
  • Naomi Langerock
  • Nelson Cowan
Brief Report


Working memory (WM) keeps information temporarily accessible for ongoing cognition. One proposed mechanism to keep information active in WM is refreshing. This mechanism is assumed to operate by bringing memory items into the focus of attention, thereby serially refreshing the content of WM. We report two experiments in which we examine evidence for the spontaneous occurrence of serial refreshing in verbal WM. Participants had to remember series of red letters, while black probe letters were presented between these memory items, with each probe to be judged present in or absent from the list presented so far, as quickly as possible (i.e., the probe–span task). Response times to the probes were used to infer the status of the representations in WM and, in particular, to examine whether the content of the focus of attention changed over time, as would be expected if serial refreshing occurs spontaneously during inter-item pauses. In sharp contrast with this hypothesis, our results indicate that the last-presented memory item remained in the focus of attention during the inter-item pauses of the probe–span task. We discuss how these findings help to define the boundary conditions of spontaneous refreshing of verbal material in WM, and discuss implications for verbal WM maintenance and forgetting.


Working memory Attention Focus of attention Refreshing 



This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grants P300P1_154611 and PZ001_154911, to Evie Vergauwe) and by the NIH (Grant R01 HD-21338, to Nelson Cowan). Part of this research was carried out while Evie Vergauwe was at the University of Missouri. The authors thank Laura Abdili, Faith Knocke and Grace Freeman for assisting with data collection.

Supplementary material

13423_2017_1387_MOESM1_ESM.docx (209 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 209 kb)


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculté de Psychologie et des Sciences de l’EducationUniversité de GenèveGenève 4Switzerland
  2. 2.Université de GenèveGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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