Visual working memory for global, object, and part-based information

Michael D. Patterson, Benjamin Martin Bly, Anthony J. Porcelli, Bart Rypma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We investigated visual working memory for novel objects and parts of novel objects. After a delay period, participants showed strikingly more accurate performance recognizing a single whole object than the parts of that object. This bias to remember whole objects, rather than parts, persisted even when the division between parts was clearly defined and the parts were disconnected from each other so that, in order to remember the single whole object, the participants needed to mentally combine the parts. In addition, the bias was confirmed when the parts were divided by color. These experiments indicated that holistic perceptual-grouping biases are automatically used to organize storage in visual working memory. In addition, our results suggested that the bias was impervious to top-down consciously directed control, because when task demands were manipulated through instruction and catch trials, the participants still recognized whole objects more quickly and more accurately than their parts. This bias persisted even when the whole objects were novel and the parts were familiar. We propose that visual working memory representations depend primarily on the global configural properties of whole objects, rather than part-based representations, even when the parts themselves can be clearly perceived as individual objects. This global configural bias beneficially reduces memory load on a capacity-limited system operating in a complex visual environment, because fewer distinct items must be remembered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-751
Number of pages14
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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