The effects of long-term representations on attentional orienting in visual short-term memory.
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How long-term representations influence attentional orienting within visual short-term memory (VSTM)? Inspired by previous findings suggesting that familiar items generate multiple codes that activate both visual and semantic traces in long-term memory (LTM), we associated via training, unfamiliar abstract shapes with familiar items to examine the impact of these newly-formed LTM representations on VSTM performance. Furthermore, we manipulated the type of mental associations created between familiar and unfamiliar items to include mental associations of the abstract shapes with a) either visual familiar items (images of known animals) or b) auditory familiar items (the sounds of the name of these animals), in order to investigate the effects of the presentation modality on the strength of the mental associations. Young adults, who were assigned in one of two experimental groups (one per presentation modality) and were first asked to complete the learning/association task, were compared with a "no learning" control group, in an attentional orienting task (AOT). In AOT, participants had to decide whether a probe item was a member of a previously presented memory array, consisted of four different images (familiar animals or unfamiliar abstract shapes). Critically, we used visuospatial attentional cues during the maintenance period to orient participants' attention to specific locations within the arrays held in VSTM. Results indicated three key findings. First, all participants were more accurate with familiar items compare with unfamiliar items. Second, all participants were more accurate and faster when the attentional cues were spatially informative, and this was the case for both familiar and unfamiliar items. Last and more importantly, there was an effect of learning on participants’ accuracy, suggesting the existence of a training effect. Taken together these findings, contribute to a growing body of knowledge that highlights the interaction between familiarity of information and attentional orienting in VSTM.