The following is a summary of “Inhibition continues to guide search under concurrent visual working Memory load,” published in the February 2022 issue of Ophthalmology by Frohman, et al.
For a study, researchers examined the mechanism of distractor inhibition by testing the idea that holding a mental representation of a distractor’s feature in visual working memory (VWM) guides attention away from the distractor.
Two experiments were conducted to investigate color-based inhibition in visual search for a shape target with and without VWM load. The first experiment found that the presence of a distractor facilitated visual search and reduced the number of eye movements to the distractor, but the effect was weakened in VWM load conditions. The second experiment aimed to distinguish between inhibition of the distractor color and activation of the irrelevant target color. It revealed that the distractor color attracted less attention than the neutral color with and without VWM load, while the target color only attracted more attention than the neutral color under no load.
The results suggested that VWM plays a role in guiding attention to the irrelevant target color, but distractor-feature inhibition can operate independently. The study highlighted the complex interaction between saliency, attention, and working memory in visual search. It supported the idea that distractor inhibition is an active process that involves maintaining a representation of the distractor’s feature in working memory. The findings also highlighted the importance of considering the cognitive load in understanding attentional control mechanisms. By showing that VWM load weakens the inhibition effect, the study suggested that the availability of cognitive resources affects the ability to inhibit distractors.
Overall, the study contributed to the growing body of research on the mechanisms of attentional control and provided insights into the cognitive processes involved in visual search.