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Internal attention is the only retroactive mechanism for controlling precision in working memory.

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Recent research has suggested that humans can assert control over the precision of working memory (WM) items. However, the mechanisms that enable this control are unclear. While some studies suggest that internal attention improves precision, it may not be the only factor, as previous work also demonstrated that WM storage is disentangled from attention. To test whether there is a precision control mechanism beyond internal attention, we contrasted internal attention and precision requirements within the same trial in three experiments. In every trial, participants memorized two items briefly. Before the test, a retro-cue indicated which item would be tested first, thus should be attended. Importantly, we encouraged participants to store the unattended item with higher precision by testing it using more similar lure colors at the probe display. Accuracy was analyzed on a small proportion of trials where the target-lure similarity, hence the task difficulty, was equal for attended and unattended items. Experiments 2 and 3 controlled for output interference by the first test and involuntary precision boost by the retro-cue, respectively. In all experiments, the unattended item had lower accuracy than the attended item, suggesting that individuals were not able to remember it more precisely than the attended item. Thus, we conclude that there is no precision control mechanism beyond internal attention, highlighting the close relationship between attentional and qualitative prioritization within WM. We discuss the important implications of these findings for our understanding of the fundamentals of WM and WM-driven behaviors.


Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Günseli Lab research assistants Nidanur Günay, Pelin Akbaş, Nilay Rodoplu, and Yaren Kaynar for their contributions to data collection.


Cognitive control, Retro-cue, Reward, Selective attention, Visual working memory, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Cues, Attention, Mental Recall

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Atten Percept Psychophys

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC