Feature-based change detection reveals inconsistent individual differences in visual working memory capacity

Joseph P. Ambrose, Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar, Aaron T. Buss, John P. Spencer

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Visual working memory (VWM) is a key cognitive system that enables people to hold visual information in mind after a stimulus has been removed and compare past and present to detect changes that have occurred. VWM is severely capacity limited to around 3–4 items, although there are robust individual differences in this limit. Importantly, these individual differences are evident in neural measures of VWM capacity. Here, we capitalized on recent work showing that capacity is lower for more complex stimulus dimension. In particular, we asked whether individual differences in capacity remain consistent if capacity is shifted by a more demanding task, and, further, whether the correspondence between behavioral and neural measures holds across a shift in VWM capacity. Participants completed a change detection (CD) task with simple colors and complex shapes in an fMRI experiment. As expected, capacity was significantly lower for the shape dimension. Moreover, there were robust individual differences in behavioral estimates of VWM capacity across dimensions. Similarly, participants with a stronger BOLD response for color also showed a strong neural response for shape within the lateral occipital cortex, intraparietal sulcus (IPS), and superior IPS. Although there were robust individual differences in the behavioral and neural measures, we found little evidence of systematic brain-behavior correlations across feature dimensions. This suggests that behavioral and neural measures of capacity provide different views onto the processes that underlie VWM and CD. Recent theoretical approaches that attempt to bridge between behavioral and neural measures are well positioned to address these findings in future work.
Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2016


  • change detection
  • fMRI
  • individual differences
  • visual working memory
  • working memory capacity

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