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    The focus of spatial attention determines the number and precision of face representations in working memory

    Towler, John and Kelly, Maria and Eimer, Martin (2016) The focus of spatial attention determines the number and precision of face representations in working memory. Cerebral Cortex 26 (6), pp. 2530-2540. ISSN 1047-3211.

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    The capacity of visual working memory for faces is extremely limited, but the reasons for these limitations remain unknown. We employed event-related brain potential (ERP) measures to demonstrate that individual faces have to be focally attended in order to be maintained in working memory, and that attention is allocated to only a single face at a time. When two faces have to be memorized simultaneously in a face identity matching task, the focus of spatial attention during encoding predicts which of these faces can be successfully maintained in working memory and matched to a subsequent test face. We also show that memory representations of attended faces are maintained in a position-dependent fashion. These findings demonstrate that the limited capacity of face memory is directly linked to capacity limits of spatial attention during the encoding and maintenance of individual face representations. We suggest that the capacity and distribution of selective spatial attention is a dynamic resource that constrains the capacity and fidelity of working memory for faces.


    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in CEREBRAL CORTEX following peer review. The version of record is available online at:
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): event-related potentials, face memory, memory capacity, spatial attention, working memory
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Birkbeck Centre for British Political Life
    Depositing User: Martin Eimer
    Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2015 08:36
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:15


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