Internal attention to features in visual short-term memory guides object learning

Judith E. Fan, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Attending to objects in the world affects how we perceive and remember them. What are the consequences of attending to an object in mind? In particular, how does reporting the features of a recently seen object guide visual learning? In three experiments, observers were presented with abstract shapes in a particular color, orientation, and location. After viewing each object, observers were cued to report one feature from visual short-term memory (VSTM). In a subsequent test, observers were cued to report features of the same objects from visual long-term memory (VLTM). We tested whether reporting a feature from VSTM: (1) enhances VLTM for just that feature (practice-benefit hypothesis), (2) enhances VLTM for all features (object-based hypothesis), or (3) simultaneously enhances VLTM for that feature and suppresses VLTM for unreported features (feature-competition hypothesis). The results provided support for the feature-competition hypothesis, whereby the representation of an object in VLTM was biased towards features reported from VSTM and away from unreported features (Experiment 1). This bias could not be explained by the amount of sensory exposure or response learning (Experiment 2) and was amplified by the reporting of multiple features (Experiment 3). Taken together, these results suggest that selective internal attention induces competitive dynamics among features during visual learning, flexibly tuning object representations to align with prior mnemonic goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-308
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Features and objects
  • Memory encoding
  • Memory retrieval
  • Selective attention
  • Visual short-term memory
  • Visual working memory


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