Stream specificity and asymmetries in feature binding and content-addressable access in visual encoding and memory
Tripathy, Srimant P.
Bedell, Harold E.
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Human memory is content addressable—i.e., contents of the memory can be accessed using partial information about the bound features of a stored item. In this study, we used a cross-feature cuing technique to examine how the human visual system encodes, binds, and retains information about multiple stimulus features within a set of moving objects. We sought to characterize the roles of three different features (position, color, and direction of motion, the latter two of which are processed preferentially within the ventral and dorsal visual streams, respectively) in the construction and maintenance of object representations. We investigated the extent to which these features are bound together across the following processing stages: during stimulus encoding, sensory (iconic) memory, and visual short-term memory. Whereas all features examined here can serve as cues for addressing content, their effectiveness shows asymmetries and varies according to cue-report pairings and the stage of information processing and storage. Position-based indexing theories predict that position should be more effective as a cue compared to other features. While we found a privileged role for position as a cue at the stimulus-encoding stage, position was not the privileged cue at the sensory and visual short-term memory stages. Instead, the pattern that emerged from our findings is one that mirrors the parallel processing streams in the visual system. This stream-specific binding and cuing effectiveness manifests itself in all three stages of information processing examined here. Finally, we find that the Leaky Flask model proposed in our previous study is applicable to all three features.