Effects of item distinctiveness on the retrieval of objects and object-location bindings from visual working memory
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Description: Visual working memory (VWM) is prone to interference from stored items competing for its limited capacity. These competitive interactions can arise from different sources. For example, one such source is poor item distinctiveness causing a failure to discriminate between items sharing common features. Another source of interference is imperfect binding, a problem of determining which of the remembered features belonged to which object or which item was in which location. In two experiments, we studied how the conceptual distinctiveness of real-world objects (i.e., whether the objects belong to the same or different basic categories) affects VWM for objects and object-location binding. In Experiment 1 and 2, we found that distinctiveness did not affect memory for object identities or for locations, but low-distinctive objects were more frequently reported at “swapped” locations that originally contained other objects. In Experiment 3 we found evidence that the effect of distinctiveness on the object-location swaps was due to the use of categorical information for binding. In particular, we found that observers swapped the location of a tested object with another object from the same category more frequently than with any of the objects from another category. This suggests that observers can use some coarse category-location information when objects are conceptually distinct. Taken together, our findings suggest that object distinction and object-location binding act upon different components of VWM.