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Description: Working memory is a reconstructive process that requires integrating multiple hierarchical representations of objects. This hierarchical reconstruction allows us to overcome perceptual uncertainty and limited cognitive capacity, but yields systematic biases in working memory as individual items are influenced by the ensemble statistics of the scene, or of their particular group. Given the importance of the hierarchical encoding of a display, we aim to characterize what structured priors people use to encode visual scenes using a nonparametric data-driven approach. In Experiment 1, we examine visuospatial memory’s priors for locations by asking participants to recall the locations of objects in an serial reproduction task. We show that people have priors that bias items toward a more compact structure, and organize them into clustered spatial groups. In Experiment 2, we explicitly introduce discrete color groups, allowing us to test whether the color feature governs the spatial grouping. We find that the spatial structures were color-contingent. By analyzing color groups, we circumvent the grouping uncertainty in Experiment 1 and further reveal spatial priors that compress color groups into collinear structures with similar orientations and equidistant spacing.

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Wang, Vul & Brady

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