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Swap errors in visual working memory are fully explained by cue-feature variability.

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McMaster, Jessica MV 
Tomić, Ivan 
Schneegans, Sebastian 
Bays, Paul M 


In cue-based recall from working memory, incorrectly reporting features of an uncued item may be referred to as a "swap" error. One account of these errors ascribes them to variability in memory for the cue features leading to erroneous selection of a non-target item, especially if it is similar to the target in the cue-feature dimension. However, alternative accounts of swap errors include cue-independent misbinding, and strategic guessing when the cued item is not in memory. Here we investigated the cause of swap errors by manipulating the variability with which either cue or report features (orientations in Exp 1; motion directions in Exp 2) were encoded. We found that swap errors increased with increasing variability in memory for the cue features, and their changing frequency could be quantitatively predicted based on recall variability when the same feature was used for report. These results are inconsistent with the hypothesis that swaps are a strategic response to forgotten items, and suggest that swap errors could be wholly accounted for by confusions due to cue-dimension variability. In a third experiment we examined whether spatial configuration of memory arrays in tasks with spatial cueing has an influence on swap error frequency. We observed a specific tendency to make swap errors to non-targets located precisely opposite to the cued location, suggesting that stimulus positions are partially encoded in a non-metric format.



Cued recall, Feature binding, Intrusion error, Short-term memory, Swap error, Visual working memory, Cues, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Mental Recall, Visual Perception

Journal Title

Cogn Psychol

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Elsevier BV
Wellcome Trust (106926/A/15/Z)
Wellcome Trust (106926/Z/15/Z)