Visual working memory for line orientations and face identities

Yuhong V. Jiang, Won Mok Shim, Tal Makovski Makovski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies have shown that the number of objects we can actively hold in visual working memory is smaller for more complex objects. However, complex objects are not just more complex but are often more similar to other complex objects used as test probes. To separate effects of complexity from effects of similarity, we measured visual memory following a 1-sec delay for complex and simple objects at several levels of memory-to-test similarity. When memory load was one object, memory accuracy for a face (a complex attribute) was similar to a line orientation (a simple attribute) when the face changed in steps of 10% along a morphing continuum and the line changed in steps of 5° in orientation. Performance declined with increasing memory load and increasing memory-to-test similarity. Remarkably, when memory load was three or four objects, face memory was better than orientation memory at similar changed steps. These results held when memory for line orientations was compared with that for inverted faces. We conclude that complex objects do not always exhaust visual memory more quickly than simple objects do.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1591
Number of pages11
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


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