The precision of spatial selection into the focus of attention in working memory
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Description: Attention helps to manage the information held in visual working memory (vWM). Perceptual attention selects the stimuli to be represented in vWM, whereas internal attention prioritizes information already in vWM. The present study assessed the spatial precision of perceptual and internal attention in vWM. Participants encoded eight colored dots for a local-recognition test. To manipulate attention, a cue indicated the item most likely to be tested (~65% validity). The cue appeared either before the onset of the memory array (pre-cue) or during the retention interval (retro-cue). The pre-cue guides perceptual attention to gate encoding into vWM, whereas the retro-cue guides internal attention to prioritize the cued item within vWM. If attentional selection is spatially imprecise, attention should be preferentially allocated to the cued location, with a gradual drop-off of attention over space to nearby uncued locations. In this case, memory for uncued locations should vary as a function of its distance to the cued location. Compared to a no-cue condition, memory was better for validly cued items, but worse for uncued items. The spatial distance between the uncued and the cued location modulated the cuing costs: items close in space to the cued location were insulated from cuing costs. The extension of this spatial proximity effect was larger for pre-cues than retro-cues, mostly because the benefits of attention were larger for pre-cues. These results point to similar selection principles between perceptual and internal attention, and for a critical role of spatial distance for selection of visual representations.