Selection in spatial working memory is independent of perceptual selective attention, but they interact in a shared spatial priority map

C Hedge, K Oberauer, U Leonards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined the relationship between the attentional selection of perceptual information and of information in working memory (WM) through four experiments, using a spatial WM-updating task. Participants remembered the locations of two objects in a matrix and worked through a sequence of updating operations, each mentally shifting one dot to a new location according to an arrow cue. Repeatedly updating the same object in two successive steps is typically faster than switching to the other object; this object switch cost reflects the shifting of attention in WM. In Experiment 1, the arrows were presented in random peripheral locations, drawing perceptual attention away from the selected object in WM. This manipulation did not eliminate the object switch cost, indicating that the mechanisms of perceptual selection do not underlie selection in WM. Experiments 2a and 2b corroborated the independence of selection observed in Experiment 1, but showed a benefit to reaction times when the placement of the arrow cue was aligned with the locations of relevant objects in WM. Experiment 2c showed that the same benefit also occurs when participants are not able to mark an updating location through eye fixations. Together, these data can be accounted for by a framework in which perceptual selection and selection in WM are separate mechanisms that interact through a shared spatial priority map.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2653-2668
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Early online date4 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright: The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Funding: C.H. was supported by a PhD studentship at the University of Bristol from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK. K.O. was supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (Project No. 100014_126766/1).


  • Working memory
  • attention
  • attention switching
  • focus of attention
  • spatial attention


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