© 2016 Poth and Schneider. Human vision is organized in discrete processing episodes (e.g., eye fixations or task-steps). Object information must be transmitted across episodes to enable episodic short-term recognition: recognizing whether a current object has been seen in a previous episode. We ask whether episodic short-term recognition presupposes that objects have been encoded into capacity-limited visual working memory (VWM), which retains visual information for report. Alternatively, it could rely on the activation of visual features or categories that occurs before encoding into VWM. We assessed the dependence of episodic short-term recognition on VWM by a new paradigm combining letter report and probe recognition. Participants viewed displays of 10 letters and reported as many as possible after a retention interval (whole report). Next, participants viewed a probe letter and indicated whether it had been one of the 10 letters (probe recognition). In Experiment 1, probe recognition was more accurate for letters that had been encoded into VWM (reported letters) compared with non-encoded letters (non-reported letters). Interestingly, those letters that participants reported in their whole report had been near to one another within the letter displays. This suggests that the encoding into VWM proceeded in a spatially clustered manner. In Experiment 2, participants reported only one of 10 letters (partial report) and probes either referred to this letter, to letters that had been near to it, or far from it. Probe recognition was more accurate for near than for far letters, although none of these letters had to be reported. These findings indicate that episodic short-term recognition is constrained to a small number of simultaneously presented objects that have been encoded into VWM.
Poth, C. H., & Schneider, W. X. (2016). Episodic short-term recognition requires encoding into visual working memory: Evidence from probe recognition after letter report. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01440