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Research with younger adults has shown that retrospective cues can be used to orient top-down attention toward relevant items in working memory. We examined whether older adults could take advantage of these cues to improve memory performance. Younger and older adults were presented with visual arrays of five colored shapes; during maintenance, participants were presented either with an informative cue based on an object feature (here, object shape or color) that would be probed, or with an uninformative, neutral cue. Although older adults were less accurate overall, both age groups benefited from the presentation of an informative, feature-based cue relative to a neutral cue. Surprisingly, we also observed differences in the effectiveness of shape versus color cues and their effects upon post-cue memory load. These results suggest that older adults can use top-down attention to remove irrelevant items from visual working memory, provided that task-relevant features function as cues.
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Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition:
A Journal on Normal and Dysfunctional
Development
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Retrospective cues based on object
features improve visual working
memory performance in older adults
Amanda L. Gilchrista, Audrey Duarteb & Paul Verhaeghenb
a Department of Psychology, Cottey College, Nevada, MO, USA
b School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta,
GA, USA
Published online: 24 Jul 2015.
To cite this article: Amanda L. Gilchrist, Audrey Duarte & Paul Verhaeghen (2015): Retrospective
cues based on object features improve visual working memory performance in older adults,
Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition: A Journal on Normal and Dysfunctional Development, DOI:
10.1080/13825585.2015.1069253
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2015.1069253
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Retrospective cues based on object features improve visual
working memory performance in older adults
Amanda L. Gilchrist
a
, Audrey Duarte
b
and Paul Verhaeghen
b
a
Department of Psychology, Cottey College, Nevada, MO, USA;
b
School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of
Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA
ABSTRACT
Research with younger adults has shown that retrospective cues
can be used to orient top-down attention toward relevant items in
working memory. We examined whether older adults could take
advantage of these cues to improve memory performance.
Younger and older adults were presented with visual arrays of
ve colored shapes; during maintenance, participants were pre-
sented either with an informative cue based on an object feature
(here, object shape or color) that would be probed, or with an
uninformative, neutral cue. Although older adults were less accu-
rate overall, both age groups beneted from the presentation of
an informative, feature-based cue relative to a neutral cue.
Surprisingly, we also observed dierences in the eectiveness of
shape versus color cues and their eects upon post-cue memory
load. These results suggest that older adults can use top-down
attention to remove irrelevant items from visual working memory,
provided that task-relevant features function as cues.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 6 March 2015
Accepted 1 July 2015
KEYWORDS
Aging; retrospective cueing;
visual working memory;
attention; object features
Introduction
Working memory, typically dened as what one is consciously aware of for brief periods
of time, is inextricably linked with selective attention. Attention is required to update
and adapt to a rapidly changing external environment; this is done by orienting atten-
tion toward relevant stimuli and shifting attention away from irrelevant stimuli, possibly
even subsequently inhibiting or removing these irrelevant items from memory. These
attentional processes can be executed in either a bottom-up or a top-down manner.
Selective attention operates in a bottom-up fashion when attention involuntarily orients
toward unexpected, salient stimuli. In contrast, selective attention can also be oriented
toward particular stimuli in a voluntary, top-down manner.
It is well-documented that adult aging is typically accompanied by declines in
working memory performance and storage capacity (c.f., Cowan, Naveh-Benjamin,
Kilb, & Saults, 2006; Gilchrist, Cowan, & Naveh-Benjamin, 2008; Naveh-Benjamin,
Cowan, Kilb, & Chen, 2007). Previous research suggests that these declines are due
to decits in top-down attentional processing, particularly during periods of
CONTACT Amanda L. Gilchrist agilchrist@cottey.edu
AGING, NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, AND COGNITION, 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2015.1069253
© 2015 Taylor & Francis
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maintenance (e.g., Gazzaley, Sheridan, Cooney, & DEsposito, 2007; May, Hasher, &
Kane, 1999). One aspect of this processing that has been posited to be particularly
age-sensitive is the ability to delete or suppress irrelevant information from working
memory (e.g., Hasher, Quig, & May, 1997). Research that has examined neural activity
in younger and older adults during tasks that require suppression has bolstered this
hypothesis. In an fMRI study by Gazzaley and colleagues (Gazzaley, Cooney, Rissman, &
DEsposito, 2005), younger and older participants were presented with sequences of
faces and scenes. Participants were instructed to either remember or ignore a specic
category (e.g., remember faces and ignore scenes), or to passively view all stimuli. Of
particular interest were changes in activity in regions of the sensory cortex, which are
associated with the maintenance of items in visual working memory (VWM; e.g., Gao
et al., 2011; Vogel & Machizawa, 2004). Eective VWM performance was associated
with enhancement of blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal in the left para-
hippocampal gyrus for remembered stimuli compared to baseline, as well as a reduc-
tion in BOLD activity for ignored stimuli relative to baseline. Although both younger
and older adults demonstrated enhanced activity for remembered stimuli, older adults
were not able to suppress stimuli that were to be ignored. In addition to recruitment
of sensory areas during VWM maintenance, frontal regions are also necessary for
eective top-down selective attention. Given that regions of frontal cortex are suscep-
tible to age-related atrophy, particularly the prefrontal cortex, it has been suggested
that this region is the locus of inhibitory decits that occur with age (Gazzaley et al.,
2007,2008).
One paradigm that has recently been used to explicitly test whether age-related
declines in VWM performance are due to decits in inhibition of irrelevant items is the
retrocue paradigm (Grin & Nobre, 2003). In this task, participants are rst briey
shown a memory array of to-be-remembered items. After a delay, a retroactive spatial
cue (retrocue) is presented to indicate the location of the to-be-probed item, after
which the item is probed. The expectation is that, by directing the subjects attention
toward the location of the critical item, the retrocue acts to make all other items in
VWM task-irrelevant, thus reducing the eective memory load. In accordance with this
prediction, retrocueing enhances memory accuracy and capacity measures in young
adults (Landman, Spekreijse, & Lamme, 2003; Lepsien & Nobre, 2007; Makovski & Jiang,
2007; Makovski, Sussman, & Jiang, 2008; Matsukura, Luck, & Vecera, 2007).
To our knowledge, only one study, from our lab, has investigated the eects of
retrocueing in older adults (Duarte et al., 2013). Younger and older adults were
presented with a retrocueing task during which event-related potentials (ERPs)
were recorded; an ERP of particular interest was contralateral delay activity (CDA).
This waveform is typically associated with the maintenance of items in VWM and can
be considered an index of eective working memory load (e.g., Vogel & Machizawa,
2004). If retrocues improve working memory performance by reducing the eective
load in VWM, it was expected that the size of the CDA would be modulated by the
presence of a retrocue. Surprisingly, this occurred for both age groups. However,
despite neural evidence that retrocues reduced working memory load, behavioral
results suggested that older adults were not able to use these retrocues to their
advantage. In younger adults, working memory performance was signicantly more
2A.L. GILCHRIST ET AL.
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accurate on cued trials compared to trials in which no cue was presented, but this
was not the case for older adults.
It may be premature, however, to conclude that older adults are unable to use
retrocues to enhance working memory performance. In our previous study, as in the
majority of the young-adult research on retrocueing described above, the cue was based
on an items spatial location. Studies of VWM make use of feature-bound visual objects
as stimuli. In addition to location, these features may include color, shape, orientation,
and the like. Of these dierent features, location is often the least noticeable in real-
world applications, and may not always be needed for accurate storage of VWM
representations if it is not relevant to the task at hand (e.g., Cowan, Blume, & Saults,
2013; Gilchrist & Cowan, 2014; Woodman, Vogel, & Luck, 2012). Given that older adults
encounter greater diculty with remembering bindings between objects and their
locations when it is relevant to the task (e.g., Chalfonte & Johnson, 1996), as it is for
many retrocueing studies, it is worth examining whether older adults can eectively use
cues related to other object features besides location.
Previous research has shown that the benets procured by the presence of retrocues
are inuenced by the type of cue that is used. For example, Berryhill and colleagues
(Berryhill, Richmond, Shay, & Olson, 2012; Experiment 1) observed retrocue benets for
arrows presented in central xation, but not for dashes presented in peripheral array
locations or digits that indicated the quadrant of the to-be-tested item (but see
Matsukura, Cosman, Roper, Vatterott, & Vecera, 2014, which nds that cues in peripheral
object locations can function as eectively as cues in central xation). Moreover, cues
based on object features such as color can function as eective retrocues in certain
circumstances. Namely, a cue based on an objects color can be as eective as a
location-based cue, provided that the feature-bound objects in a visual array are
relatively simple in structure (Li & Saiki, 2015). In light of these ndings, we examined
whether the age-related dierences in the retrocueing eect reported by Duarte et al.
(2013) would still be observed when younger and older adults were presented with
retrocues that were based on object features that are often more discriminable than
object location, such as color or shape.
A schematic of the task used in the current study is shown in Figure 1.We
presented participants with an array of ve colored shapes. After the display disap-
peared, and after a variable delay, on some trials participants received a retrospective
color cue (e.g., red) or a retrospective shape cue (e.g., circle) and, after another
delay, the participants were tested with a probe that included the cued color or shape.
Depending on the retrocue that was used, the number of items that had to be
maintained post-cue varied from trial to trial (between one and three). Finally, unin-
formative, neutral cues were also used in order to assess the working memory
performance benets induced by retrocues.
One notable aspect of this task is that the retrocue was verbal in nature. Aside
from a study by Lepsien, Thornton, and Nobre (2011), which utilized letters to
indicate which category of items (here, faces or scenes) was to be tested, no other
study has utilized a verbal retrocue. We opted to use a verbal cue because of its
semantic nature. It is well-documented that semantic memory is spared by aging
(e.g., Kausler, 1994); as such, we believe that use of this type of cue allows older
adults to capitalize on these intact processes.
AGING, NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, AND COGNITION 3
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As noted above, the presence of a retrocue improves VWM performance; in young
adults, this benet becomes larger with greater reductions in eective memory load via
retrocues (Lepsien et al., 2011). Thus, in the current study, the highest accuracy should
be observed on trials in which the retrocue refers to a single item, whereas the lowest
accuracy should occur when the retrocue refers to a feature shared by three items. We
wished to examine whether similar modulations in working memory performance would
also occur in older adults, given that aging is often associated with a decline in working
memory capacity (e.g., Bopp & Verhaeghen, 2005; Gilchrist et al., 2008). Retrocues reduce
eective working memory load to manageable, sub-capacity levels, which should greatly
benet older adults. Such ndings would provide strong evidence for preserved top-
down attentional processes in old age.
Methods
Participants
Twenty-eight younger adults (17 male, 11 female) and 24 older adults (14 male, 10
female) took part in the current study. Data from two younger adults (one male, one
female) were not included in our analyses due to a programing error, leaving us with 26
younger adults with usable data. Younger adults were recruited from Georgia Institute
of Technology; older adults were recruited from the metropolitan Atlanta area. Younger
adults had a mean age of 20.6 years (SD = 1.79) with 14.37 years of education
(SD = 1.74). Older adults had a mean age of 68.67 years (SD = 5.25) with 17.63 years
of education (SD = 2.99) and a mean Shipley vocabulary test score of 32.88 (SD =4.69).
The dierence in mean education levels between the two age groups was statistically
signicant, t(48) = 4.76, p< .001.
1
All participants received compensation of $10 per
hour for their participation or, in the case of younger adults who opted to do so,
Figure 1. Schematic of retrocueing procedure for the current study.
4A.L. GILCHRIST ET AL.
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received extra credit in an introductory psychology course. The total session duration
was approximately 1.52hours.
Stimuli, apparatus, and procedure
Participants were tested one at a time in a quiet booth. Prior to the experiment
participants completed two blocks of practice trials, and were familiarized with all of
the shapes and colors that would be presented in the experiment.
All experimental trials followed the procedure described in further detail below (see
Figure 1). All stimuli were presented against a gray background. Each trial began with a
1,000-ms xation. Participants were then presented with a visual array of ve colored
shapes for 1,000 ms. Three dierent colors and three dierent shapes were present in
the array; each color-shape combination was unique, and was never repeated by any
other item within the array. Item colors were randomly selected from a pool of eight
colors: red, green, purple, yellow, blue, brown, black, and white. Likewise, item shapes were
randomly selected from a pool of eight shapes: square, circle, triangle, star, moon, arrow,
diamond, and plus. All items in the array were located in an arc around the center of the
screen; locations were randomly assigned to prevent visual grouping of items. Each
shape in the array was 1.75 × 1.75 cm in size and subtended 4.01
of visual angle with a
50-cm viewing distance. Following the array presentation, there was a short delay,
during which participants were expected to maintain the visual array in working mem-
ory; the delay included a xation on the screen. This delay period ranged from 4,000 to
9,000 ms, and the duration was randomly selected according to a logarithmic function
(4,0005,000 ms: 50% of trials; 6,0007,000 ms: 35%; 8,0009,000 ms: 15%). Participants
then received a verbal retrocue in the center of the screen for 1,000 ms. For half of all
experimental trials, the cue was neutral and uninformative (the word Wait); in that
case, participants were instructed to continue maintaining the entire array. For the
remaining half of the trials, participants received either a shape cue (circle) or a color
cue (red). Trials with retrocues and trials with neutral cues occurred equally often in
the experiment; for the retrocue trials, shape cues were presented on 45 trials and color
cues were presented on another 45 trials. Retrocues indicated that the test probe would
contain only the denoted shape or color as a relevant feature this cue was always valid.
Informative cues theoretically allowed participants to reduce their working memory load
from the original ve items down to one, two, or three items. Each possible reduction in
load (e.g., 1, 2, or 3 items) occurred equally often in the task. A second delay period
followed the retrocue. Like the rst delay period, the duration randomly ranged between
4,000 and 9,000 ms, selected via a logarithmic function. After this second delay, parti-
cipants were tested with a single-item probe, which either matched an item present in
the original array or was previously unseen. The single-item probe was presented in the
center of the screen for 2,000 ms. Participants indicated via a keypress whether the item
was part of the original array or not. Match probes occurred on half of all trials; for trials
in which a shape or color retrocue occurred, this probe item contained the cued feature.
Mismatch trials were constructed as follows: For shape-cued trials and half of the
neutral-cued trials the probe consisted of the cued shape in a color not shown in the
array; for color-cued trials and half of the neutral-cued trials, the probe consisted of the
cued color in a shape not shown in the array. Following the probe, an inter-trial interval
AGING, NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, AND COGNITION 5
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(ITI) was presented between 4,000 and 12,000 ms. ITI duration was selected randomly
according to a logarithmic function (4,0006,000 ms: 50%; 7,0009,000 ms: 35%; 10,000
12,000 ms: 15%). The order of trial types was randomized.
The experiment contained a total of 180 trials. To reduce fatigue, trials were broken
down into ve blocks of 36 trials each. Trials within a given block were computer-paced,
but participants were able to take a short break before beginning the next block.
Our primary dependent measure of interest was accuracy in memory performance,
dened as hits false alarms, to correct for guessing (with false alarm rate serving as an
analog for guessing rate), or Pr(Snodgrass & Corwin, 1988). For Pr measures,
chance = 0.
Results
General retrocueing eects
First, we were interested in whether there was a general benet to VWM performance
on trials in which an informative retrocue was presented, compared to trials with neutral
cues. These data are shown in Figure 2, Panel A. Pr was analyzed by a repeated-measures
ANOVA, with retrocue presence (i.e., retrocue, collapsed across shape and color cues, vs.
neutral cue) as a within-subjects factor and age group as a between-subjects factor (see
Table 1 for marginal means). First, we observed a signicant eect of age group, F(1,
48) = 10.28, p< .01, η
p2
= .18. Older adults were less accurate than younger adults. We
also observed a signicant eect of retrocue presence, F(1, 48) = 52.52, p< .001,
η
p2
= .52. Participants were more accurate on trials with retrocues compared to trials
Figure 2. (a) Eect of retrocue presence (i.e., retrocue or neutral cue) on Pr in young and older
adults, (b) eect of retrocue type (shape or color) on Pr in young and older adults, (c) eect of
retrocue type and post-cue working memory load on Pr. For all panels, error bars are standard
errors of the mean.
Table 1. Marginal Pr means and standard errors for retrocue
presence and age group.
Retrocue Presence
Retrocue: .46 (.03) Neutral Cue: .30 (.03)
Age Group
Young Adults: .47 (.04) Older Adults: .29 (.04)
6A.L. GILCHRIST ET AL.
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with neutral cues. Most important, there was no signicant interaction between age
group and retrocue presence, F(1, 48) = 1.05, p= .31. For both age groups, performance
was higher for trials that contained informative retrocues compared to neutral cues, and
both groups benetted to the same extent from retrocueing.
Eects of retrocue type and post-cue load
A primary goal of the current study was to examine whether older adults could use
retrocues to benet working memory performance. As reported above, we observed a
general retrocue benet for both younger and older adults. In our analyses, we also
observed eects related to retrocue type and post-cue memory load (see Figure 2(b)
and (c)). For these analyses, we included Pr only for trials that contained an informative
retrocue. Data were analyzed with a repeated-measures ANOVA, with retrocue type
(shape or color) and presumed post-cue load (1, 2, or 3) as within-subjects factors, and
age group as a between-subjects factor (see Table 2 for marginal means). We observed
a signicant eect of age group, F(1, 48) = 6.95, p< .05, η
p2
= .13: As observed with
general retrocueing eects, younger adults had higher memory performance than
older adults. Surprisingly, there was also a signicant eect of cue type, F(1,
48) = 66.60, p< .001, η
p2
= .58, with higher memory performance for shape-based
retrocues than for color-based retrocues. Finally, we observed a signicant eect of
post-cue memory load, F(2, 96) = 7.28, p< .01, η
p2
= .13: Memory performance
generally declined as post-cue load increased. The performance dierence between
Load 1 and Load 2 was not signicant in post hoc NewmanKeuls tests (q= 0.95,
p= .34); all other comparisons between the three load conditions were signicant
(Load 1 vs. Load 3: q= 3.64, p< .01; Load 2 vs. Load 3: q= 2.70, p< .01).
These signicant eects were qualied by two signicant interactions, which are
shown in Figure 3. First, we found a signicant age group × cue-type interaction, F(1,
48) = 7.88, p< .01, η
p2
= .14. Although both age groups were more accurate on trials
with shape cues compared to color cues, there was a steeper decline in performance for
older adults on color-cued trials. These ndings were conrmed by an additional
ANOVA, as well as a post hoc NewmanKeuls test. There was a signicant dierence
between the two age groups on color-cued trials, F(1, 48) = 11.15, p< .01, (Newman
Keuls: q= 5.08, p< .001), but there was no such dierence for shape-cued trials, F(1,
48) = 1.59, p= .21 (NewmanKeuls, q= 1.64, p= .25).
Second, there was a signicant interaction between cue type and post-cue load, F(2,
96) = 3.57, p< .05, η
p2
= .07. As seen in Figure 3, memory performance for color cues
conformed to the expected load eect that is, more accurate VWM performance as
Table 2. Marginal Pr means and standard errors for retrocue type, age
group, and post-cue memory load.
Retrocue Type
Color Retrocue: .34 (.03) Shape Retrocue: .56 (.03)
Age Group
Young Adults: .52 (.04) Older Adults: .38 (.04)
Post-Cue Memory Load
Load 1: .50 (.04) Load 2: .47 (.03) Load 3: .39 (.03)
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post-cue load decreased. Interestingly, we did not observe this pattern for those trials
that contained shape retrocues. Rather, performance on shape-cued trials was equiva-
lent across all load conditions; this equivalence was conrmed in a post hoc Newman
Keuls test (Load 1 vs. Load 2: q=0.25, p= .86; Load 1 vs. Load 3: q= 0.61, p= .67; Load
2 vs. Load 3: q= 0.86, p= .82).
Discussion
Our main question concerned whether or not older adults would be able to eectively
utilize retrocues to delete irrelevant information from working memory. Our work was
motivated by a recent study from our lab where older adults were not able to use spatial
retrocues to increase memory performance in contrast to the young (Duarte et al., 2013),
in keeping with prior studies of younger adults (e.g., Astle, Summereld, Grin, & Nobre,
2012; Grin & Nobre, 2003; Makovski & Jiang, 2007). One potential issue with our prior
study was its use of a spatially based retrocue. Although the majority of retrocueing
studies utilized a location-based cue, recent research suggests that retrocues based on
other aspects of objects can be as eective as a spatial cue under appropriate circum-
stances (e.g., Lepsien et al., 2011, in which item category was cued, and Li & Saiki, 2015,
in which color was cued). For this reason, in the current study, younger and older adults
were presented with a verbal retrocue based on an object feature, either color or shape.
We were interested in whether older adults were able to use top-down attentional
processes to lter irrelevant information from VWM.
The results from this study suggest that older adults are able to use retrocues
eectively. First, older adults showed increased performance on trials in which a
retrocue was present, compared to trials that contained a neutral cue. Second, the
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
Color Shape Neutral Color Shape Neutral
Older Adults Young Adults
Pr
1
2
3
Load
Figure 3. Eects of retrocue presence, retrocue type, and post-cue working memory load on Pr in
young and older adults. Error bars are standard errors of the mean.
8A.L. GILCHRIST ET AL.
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retrocueing eect was statistically identical for younger and older adults, showing
that both age groups benet to the same degree. Note that, despite this, older
adult performance was consistently poorer than young adults across each experi-
mental condition. As shown in Figure 2, Panel A, older adultsperformance levels
on trials with a retrocue were equivalent to young adultsperformance levels on
trials with neutral cues.
A secondary goal of the current study was to examine how performance in the
retrocueing task was modulated by the eective post-cue working memory load.
Ideally, the smaller the memory load, the better the memory performance should
be. Our results conrmed that, overall, accuracy increased as post-cue load
decreased for both young and older adults, providing evidence that the ability to
use top-down attention is preserved in adult aging. However, the eect of post-cue
load was complicated by an unexpected interaction with retrocue type. For shape-
cued trials, no load eect was observed participants were equally accurate across
the board. In contrast, we observed the expected accuracy declines with increasing
load for color-cued trials. These ndings may relate to potential dierences in
discriminability between color and form, as evidenced by the nding that shape
cuesaremoreeective, which is discussed in greater detail below. This nding
might have deeper implications for the understanding of top-down control over
the contents of VWM. It may be that if items are suciently discriminable and/or
easy to maintain, subjects choose to maintain them as they are rather than apply a
ltering mechanism. This hypothesis should be addressed in future studies.
Regarding the general eects of retrocue type, we unexpectedly observed that
shape and color cues varied in ecacy. The results are very clear accuracy was
signicantly higher for shape-cued trials than for color-cued trials. Given that main-
tenance of shape and color was both necessary to determine whether the test probe
matched an array item, we did not expect to observe any dierence. Recent research,
however, suggests that the eectiveness of color-based cues diminishes when
colored shapes are complex in nature, as more precise VWM representations are
required (Li & Saiki, 2015;Quinlan&Cohen,2011,2012); to our knowledge, there are
no studies examining the ecacy of form-based cues based on the nature of stimuli.
Given that this nding was unanticipated, particularly with respect to the extremely
poor performance of older adults for color cues, it is worth examining the nature of
these dierences in future studies.
Our results raise the question of why the verbal, feature-based retrocue was
eective for older adults when a location-based cue in a previous study (Duarte
et al., 2013) was not. We believe that this is due to the nature of the cue that we
used namely, that the cue is semantic in nature. Healthy aging is accompanied by
declines in working memory and episodic memory, due in part to age-related changes
in frontal and temporal structures (e.g., Gazzaley et al., 2007; Raz et al., 2005). In
contrast, semantic memory, which is more widely distributed throughout the brain
(e.g., Binder, Desai, Graves, & Conant, 2009), is spared these age-related declines (e.g.,
Kausler, 1994). Given that a verbal, feature-based cue involves more semantic proces-
sing than a spatial cue, it is possible that older adults were able to capitalize on these
preserved features, freeing up cognitive resources for eective top-down modulation
of VWM contents. Directly comparing the ecacy of feature-based (i.e., both color and
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shape) and spatial cues within the experimental paradigm would provide stronger
evidence for this possibility (see Li & Saiki, 2015 for a direct comparison of color and
location cues). We plan to address this in future research.
There is, however, an alternative explanation for our results, related to the
nature of timing in our task. In general, retrocueing tasks utilize short durations
for retrocueing presentation (e.g., 100200 ms); in contrast, the retrocue in the
current study was presented for 1000 ms. It could be argued that older adults
showed a retrocueing benet in the current study because they had more time to
process the retrocue. (The implication would be that previous studies simply
uncovered an age-related decit in cue-processing times, not one in the eective-
ness of cue utilization.) This explanation, however, does not fully account for the
results that we obtained: Longer retrocue durations did not assist older adults
when color was cued, and it is likely that performance would be even poorer for
these trials with shorter cue durations.
In summation, adult aging is typically accompanied by declines in working mem-
ory performance. Our results suggest that, when task-relevant, noticeable object
features are cued, older adults can use top-down attention to remove irrelevant
items from VWM. When irrelevant items are removed, this reduces the eective
memory load for older adults and leads to more accurate performance. This is
especially important, as previous studies did not report a retrocueing benetin
older adults. Although older adults never reached the performance levels of the
young, our ndings point to a means of helping older adults improve working
memory storage and maintenance. Namely, by directing attention toward relevant
features, older adults can appropriately lter items from VWM.
Acknowledgments
We wish to thank Saroja Malladi, Gazi Rashid, and Radhika Solanki for data collection and
assistance
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Funding
This research was funded by NIA Training [grant number T32 AG000175-21] (Georgia Institute of
Technology).
Note
1. A limitation of this research concerns characteristics of the older adult sample we used. As
mentioned previously, the group of older adults had signicantly more years of education
than young adults, suggesting that this was a particularly high-performing group of older
participants. It is unclear whether similar results would be obtained if the sample of older
adults included a wider range of achievement levels. We plan to remedy this limitation in
follow-up research.
10 A.L. GILCHRIST ET AL.
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... There is some evidence that older people can direct their attention to particular items Gilchrist et al., 2016;Loaiza & Souza, 2018;Mok et al., 2016;Strunk et al., 2019;Souza, 2016) or tasks (Rhodes et al., 2019) within working memory. For instance, found that focusing on some items resulted in better performance relative to a condition in which participants tried to remember all of the items when four or six items were presented. ...
... This effect did not differ as a function of age. Furthermore, some visual cueing studies which direct participants towards one or more particular item(s) have reported that older adults experience similar sized cueing effects to younger adults (Gilchrist et al., 2016;Loaiza & Souza, 2018;Mok et al., 2016;Souza, 2016;Strunk et al., 2019). For example, Souza (2016) found that pre-cues and retro-cues enhanced performance to similar magnitudes in younger and older adults, relative to a condition in which no cue was presented. ...
... Therefore, while the current benefit was indeed observed for older adults, this was of the same magnitude as for young adults, at least under these task conditions. This also fits with research showing that older adults experience similar sized visual cueing effects to younger adults (Gilchrist et al., 2016;Loaiza & Souza, 2018;Mok et al., 2016;Souza, 2016;Strunk et al., 2019). We next aimed to establish, given older adults' generally lower performance levels, whether they could differentially benefit from the prioritisation strategy when allowing increased encoding time. ...
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... More recent work has revealed that, additionally to spatial locations, also visual featurese.g., color or shapecan be used for attentional selection in VWM, resulting in retro-cue benefits for memory accuracy and response speed (Gilchrist et al., 2016;Heuer results, indicating either that feature-cues are less beneficial than location cues, or that some feature dimensions may be used more efficiently than others. To explain these findings, Li and Saiki (2015) hypothesized that binding between two features in VWM may be "substantially weaker" than the binding of a feature to a location. ...
... So far, the majority of the studies using feature retro-cues used recognition tasks (Delvenne et al., 2010;Gilchrist et al., 2016;Li & Saiki, 2015;Poch et al., 2017). These tasks only permit the examination of how many representations are stored in VWM. ...
... Retro-cueing features is achieved by either 1) the visual presentation of the cue feature, or 2) with a semantic verbal cue (i.e., 'red', 'circle', as in Gilchrist et al., 2016). ...
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Visual working memory (VWM) is a capacity-limited system to temporarily maintain visual information. Attending to information in VWM conveys a benefit, as revealed by the retro-cue effect. For example, when the location of one memory item is retro-cued during VWM maintenance, memory accuracy for that item improves. Attentional selection in VWM can also be feature-based: One feature (e.g., shape) may serve as a retrieval cue for another feature (e.g., color) of the same item. Here, we assessed the scope of feature retro-cue benefits with continuous report of colors and orientations. Across six experiments, we observed robust feature retro-cue benefits with manipulations of the cued and recalled feature dimensions, as well as against different baselines controlling for temporal and interference effects. Furthermore, we replicated with continuous report the hallmark of external feature-based attention-concurrent selection of multiple items. Mixture modeling indicated that feature retro-cue benefits increased recall probability and sometimes precision, paralleling findings on spatial attention. Importantly, cuing multiple items did not produce costs, indicating that concurrently attended items did not interfere with each other. Lastly, manipulation constraining spatial location to a single position suggested that feature retro-cue benefits persist even when spatial context is not singular, but take longer to emerge. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
... In the maintenance stage, the information prioritized via retro-cues in VWM corresponds to better performance (e.g., trials with valid retro-cues yield faster response time and higher accuracy in change-detection tasks or smaller errors in recall tasks compared to trials without valid retro-cues), which is called retro-cue benefit (RCB). The acquisition of RCB indicates that internal attention can flexibly select the information of VWM (Delvenne & Holt, 2012;Gilchrist et al., 2016;Griffin & Nobre, 2003;Landman et al., 2003). ...
... Depending on their content, retro-cues can be classified as object-based or dimension-based retro-cues (Ye et al., 2016). Object-based retro-cues point to one or more specific memory objects at the same time; they include cues that indicate the location of the target object (e.g., left or right) (Kuo et al., 2011;Lepsien et al., 2005;Matsukura et al., 2014;Matsukura & Vecera, 2015;Murray et al., 2013;Myers et al., 2015) and cues that indicate a specific feature of the target object (e.g., red or square) (Gilchrist et al., 2016;Heuer & Schubö, 2016;Li & Saiki, 2015;Pertzov et al., 2013;Poch et al., 2017). Dimension-based retro-cues, by contrast, direct attention to one visual dimension of all the memory items (e.g., color, orientation) instead of to a specific object (Hajonides et al., 2020;Maniglia & Souza, 2020;Niklaus et al., 2017;Park et al., 2017;Sasin & Fougnie, 2020;Ye et al., 2016Ye et al., , 2021. ...
Preprint
In visual working memory (VWM) tasks, participants' performance can be improved via dimension-based retro-cues, which direct internal attention to prioritize a particular dimension of objects (such as color or orientation) during the maintenance interval. The information prioritized by retro-cues in VWM corresponds to better performance, which is called dimension-based retro-cue benefit (RCB). In general, RCB is a stable phenomenon that emerges under varied stimulus configurations and timing parameters. The purpose of the present study was to investigate dimension-based RCB's susceptibility to perceptual interference to determine the requirements of attention for cue use. In Experiment 1, participants completed change-detection tasks, and in Experiment 2, we used a recall task to explore the effect of interference on dimension-based RCB. RCB was found in both experiments, but perceptual interference impaired the process of prioritizing dimensional features only in the orientation reports of Experiment 2. We conclude that internal attention can be prioritized to remember specific dimensional features in VWM. Importantly, the process of prioritizing internal attention on a particular dimension in a VWM task is robust and not susceptible to interference by irrelevant perceptual information, except in specific cases.
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Thesis
La mémoire de travail, système permettant de maintenir des informations dans un état d'accessibilité élevé, en vue de réaliser une tâche cognitive donnée, fait partie des fonctions cognitives dont les performances déclinent avec l’avancée en âge. Deux mécanismes distincts de maintien des informations verbales en mémoire de travail ont été identifiés : la répétition subvocale et le rafraîchissement attentionnel. Ce dernier mécanisme repose sur des processus attentionnels, particulièrement sensibles aux effets du vieillissement. L’étude des effets du vieillissement sur le rafraîchissement attentionnel demeure toutefois parcellaire et ses résultats contradictoires. Ce travail de thèse a pour objectif d’évaluer l’hypothèse selon laquelle le fonctionnement du rafraîchissement attentionnel pour le maintien d’informations verbales est altéré avec l’âge. Pour ce faire, nous avons évalué les effets de l’utilisation de ce mécanisme sur les performances de mémorisation d’informations verbales à court et à long terme chez des participants jeunes et âgés. Globalement, les résultats des sept études menées semblent suggérer que le rafraîchissement attentionnel est altéré dans le vieillissement. Cependant, des facteurs tels que la consolidation des informations, qui modulent le bénéfice de ce mécanisme sur le maintien des informations, semblent pouvoir masquer l’observation de l’effet de l’âge. Les futures recherches s'intéressant au fonctionnement du rafraîchissement attentionnel dans le vieillissement devront approfondir les questions (1) de l’implication des facteurs modulant l’effet du rafraîchissement sur l’observation des effets de l’âge sur ce mécanisme et (2) de l’origine précise du déficit de rafraîchissement attentionnel lié à l’âge.
... The literature we developed so far was focused on verbal information. However, as refreshing is supposed to be a domain-general maintenance mechanism, several studies investigated the refreshing deficit hypothesis using visuo-spatial material (e.g., Fanuel et al., 2018;Gilchrist, Duarte, & Verhaeghen, 2016;. To do so, researchers relied mainly on the retro-cue paradigm which consists of presenting a set of memory items, followed by a retro-cue the role of which is to direct attention to one of the items and thereby refreshing it. ...
... Yet, similarly to the verbal literature, there are inconsistent findings across studies. Intact retro-cue benefits in older adults were observed in some studies (e.g., Gilchrist et al., 2016;Souza, 2016;Strunk et al., 2018) while others showed a deficit compared to younger adults (e.g., Duarte et al., 2013;Newsome et al., 2015;Yi & Friedman, 2014). Investigating these inconsistencies, Souza's studies (2018, 2019) provided insights regarding the refreshing deficit in older age. ...
... In other hand, this time delay is due to age-depended changes that happen in frontal cortex, particularly the prefrontal cortex [79,80]. Decrease in white matter may effect on neural tracts that is associated with declined neural conduction and processing speed [81,82]. ...
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... Results from retrocue paradigms, conversely, are akin to the use of attention to ignore an irrelevant content maintained in visual WM [55]. Although some initial studies pointed to age-deficits in using retrocues [56,57], subsequent studies have consistently obtained retrocue benefits of similar magnitude between younger and older adults [50,[58][59][60][61]. Together with the present findings, more and more behavioral evidence indicates that the source of the robust age-related decline observed in visual WM is unlikely to be explained by deficits in inhibiting irrelevant information. ...
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