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Limitations in the ability to temporarily represent information in visual working memory (VWM) are crucial for (visual) cognition. Whether VWM processing is dependent on an object’s saliency (i.e., how much it stands out) has been neglected in VWM research. Therefore, we developed a novel VWM task design that allows direct control over saliency. In three experiments with this task (on 10, 31, and 60 healthy adults, respectively), we consistently find that VWM performance is strongly and parametrically influenced by saliency and that both an object’s relative (to concurrently presented objects) and absolute saliency influence VWM processing. We also demonstrate that this effect is indeed due to bottom-up saliency, rather than differential fit between each object and the top-down attentional set. A simple computational model assuming that VWM performance is determined by the weighted sum of absolute and relative saliency accounts well for the observed data patterns.
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