Attention Restores Discrete Items to Visual Short-Term Memory

Alexandra M. Murray, Anna C. Nobre, Ian A. Clark, André M. Cravo, Mark G. Stokes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When a memory is forgotten, is it lost forever? Our study shows that selective attention can restore forgotten items to visual short-term memory (VSTM). In our two experiments, all stimuli presented in a memory array were designed to be equally task relevant during encoding. During the retention interval, however, participants were sometimes given a cue predicting which of the memory items would be probed at the end of the delay. This shift in task relevance improved recall for that item. We found that this type of cuing improved recall for items that otherwise would have been irretrievable, providing critical evidence that attention can restore forgotten information to VSTM. Psychophysical modeling of memory performance has confirmed that restoration of information in VSTM increases the probability that the cued item is available for recall but does not improve the representational quality of the memory. We further suggest that attention can restore discrete items to VSTM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-556
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


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