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Semantic knowledge influences visual working memory in adults and children.

  • Author(s): Starr, Ariel
  • Srinivasan, Mahesh
  • Bunge, Silvia A
  • et al.
Abstract

We can retain only a portion of the visual information that we encounter within our visual working memory. Which factors influence how much information we can remember? Recent studies have demonstrated that the capacity of visual working memory is influenced by the type of information to be remembered and is greater for real-world objects than for abstract stimuli. One explanation for this effect is that the semantic knowledge associated with real-world objects makes them easier to maintain in working memory. Previous studies have indirectly tested this proposal and led to inconsistent conclusions. Here, we directly tested whether semantic knowledge confers a benefit for visual working memory by using familiar and unfamiliar real-world objects. We found a mnemonic benefit for familiar objects in adults and children between the ages of 4 and 9 years. Control conditions ruled out alternative explanations, namely the possibility that the familiar objects could be more easily labeled or that there were differences in low-level visual features between the two types of objects. Together, these findings demonstrate that semantic knowledge influences visual working memory, which suggests that the capacity of visual working memory is not fixed but instead fluctuates depending on what has to be remembered.

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