Exploring the contributions of spatial and non-spatial working memory to priming of pop-out

Jee Won Ahn, Trisha N. Patel, Simona Buetti, Alejandro Lleras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Priming of pop-out (PoP) refers to the facilitation of performance that occurs when a target-defining feature is repeated across consecutive trials in a pop-out oddball search task. The underlying mechanism of PoP has been poorly understood and raises important questions about how our visual system is guided by past experiences, even during bottom-up processing. Lee, Mozer, and Vecera (Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 71, 1059–1071, 2009) demonstrated that PoP remained unaffected by a concurrent non-spatial visual working memory (VWM) load, and they concluded that PoP occurs through feature gain modulation, essentially eliminating the contribution of memory representations in VWM to PoP. In the present study, we followed up on those results by (a) replicating the null effect of non-spatial VWM load on PoP and (b) examining the effect of spatial VWM load on PoP. The results showed that spatial VWM load does interfere with PoP, supporting the notion that spatial VWM is involved in PoP. In Experiment 2, we extended this finding by manipulating VWM load and observing its consequence on the magnitude of PoP. Increasing spatial VWM load decreased the amount of PoP observed, in a dose-dependent manner, whereas changes in non-spatial VWM load did not. Contrary to Lee et al.’s conclusions, these results suggest that VWM resources appear to contribute to the occurrence of PoP, supporting the theory that PoP is, in fact, a multilevel process in which the deployment of spatial attention, relying on VWM representations, plays an important role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1012-1026
Number of pages15
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Priming
  • Singleton search
  • Visual search
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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