The comparison of visual working memory representations with perceptual inputs.
The human visual system can notice differences between memories of previous visual inputs and perceptions of new visual inputs, but the comparison process that detects these differences has not been well characterized. In this study, the authors tested the hypothesis that differences between the memory of a stimulus array and the perception of a new array are detected in a manner that is analogous to the detection of simple features in visual search tasks. That is, just as the presence of a task-relevant feature in visual search can be detected in parallel, triggering a rapid shift of attention to the object containing the feature, the presence of a memory-percept difference along a task-relevant dimension can be detected in parallel, triggering a rapid shift of attention to the changed object. Supporting evidence was obtained in a series of experiments in which manual reaction times, saccadic reaction times, and event-related potential latencies were examined. However, these experiments also showed that a slow, limited-capacity process must occur before the observer can make a manual change detection response.