ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (9): 1089-1100.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2015.01089

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Attentional Guidance from Activated and Inhibitory States of  Working Memory Representations

ZHANG Bao1,2; SHAO Jiaying1; HU Cenlou1; Huang Sai1   

  1. (1 School of Education / The Center for Mind and Brain, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China)
     (2 Laboratory of Cognition and Mental Health, Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, Chongqing 402160, China)
  • Received:2015-01-09 Published:2015-09-25 Online:2015-09-25
  • Contact: Huang Sai, E-mail:


Attention and working memory are two of the core cognitive processes in the human’s information processing system. Working memory and visual attention are intimately related, and the contents of working memory can be referred as “activated” representations severed as ongoing cognition and action. In the meantime, working memory representations currently within the focus of attention can guide attentional selection and behavioral execution. In recent decades, a mount of studies have shown that the activated representations in working memory could top-down capture attention, even if the representations were irrelevant to the task goals, which displayed a robust working memory-driven guidance effect. However, whether the inhibitory representations in working memory can also guide attention, is still a controversial issue? Here, in 4 experiments, the authors manipulated the states of working memory representations with the directed forgetting task, and attempted to explore the effect of activated and inhibitory states of working memory representations on working memory based attentional guidance respectively in task-irrelevant and task-relevant experimental situations. The participants in present study were asked to firstly perform a directed forgetting task, then to search for a target of circle among the distractors of squares, and finally to perform a memory test. In the directed forgetting task, the remember cue in experiment 1 and 3, and the forget cue in experiment 2 and 4 were used to respectively indicate the participants to remember or forget one of two colored squares already stored in working memory. The to-be-remembered (TBR) item and to-be-forgotten (TBF) item in working memory would reappear in visual search task and might match color with one of distractors only in experiment 1 and 2 (i.e., task-irrelevant situation), and might match color with either the target or the distractor in experiment 3 and 4 (i.e., task-relevant situation). In experiment 1 and 2, the results suggested that no matter what types of cues used in the directed forgetting task, when the distractor in visual search task matched color with TBR item, the TBR-matched distractor could capture more attention and slow down the visual search, displaying the attentional guidance effect. However, when the distractor matched the TBF item, neither attentional guidance effect nor attentional inhibition effect was observed. In experiment 3 and 4, the results for the TBR items showed that the visual search was accelerated under TBR-target matching condition and slowed down under TBR-distractor matching condition both in experiment 3 and 4, suggesting that the TBR item in working memory could guide attention biased to the TBR-matched items in visual search task. The results for the TBF items showed that when TBF item matched with distractor, there was no attentional guidance effect found both in experiment 3 and 4. When TBF item matched with target, the guidance effect was still not found in experiment 3. However, an attentional inhibitory effect which was opposed to the attentional guidance effect was observed in experiment 4, suggesting that the inhibitory state of the TBF item could postpone the response to the TBF-matched target. In conclusion, these results indicated that (1) the activated working memory representation could effectively guide attention bias both to the search target and to the distractor in visual search which matched features with such representation, and these attentional guidance effect could not be eliminated or reversed by the inhibitory motivation; (2) the inhibitory working memory representation could transfer the inhibitory state to the visual search task and postpone the response to the search target which matched the features with such representation.

Key words: states of working memory representations, attentional guidance, task-irrelevant, task-relevant, inhibition