Sources and mechanisms of modality-specific distraction in visual short-term memory

Tom Mercer, Raegan Shaw, Luke Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual short-term and working memory can be disrupted by irrelevant, distracting input occurring after encoding. Distractors similar to the original memory are known to be interfering, but it is unclear whether dissimilar distractors have the same disruptive effect. The presence of dissimilar distraction would be problematic for views of similarity-based interference, hence the present study investigated modality-specific distraction using a procedure that required participants to compare single target and probe objects over a delay. An irrelevant distractor could be presented during the delay separating the target and probe, but it varied in its similarity to the target. In four experiments, recognition was disrupted by the presence of a distractor, even when the distractors were highly dissimilar to the target. Furthermore, the interference effect was not reduced when the same distractors were repeatedly used throughout the experiment, and interference from dissimilar distractors was only lessened when it was extremely predictable. These findings indicate that susceptibility to dissimilar distraction is a persistent limitation in visual short-term memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-639
Number of pages23
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Visual Cognition. Tom Mercer, Raegan Shaw & Luke Fisher (2022) Sources and mechanisms of modality-specific distraction in visual short-term memory, Visual Cognition, 30:9, 617-639, DOI: 10.1080/13506285.2022.2162174. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.” The version of record can be found here:


  • Retroactive interference
  • distraction
  • forgetting
  • visual memory


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