A two-level hierarchical framework of visual short-term memory

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4 Scopus citations


Over the last couple of decades, a vast amount of research has been dedicated to understanding the nature and the architecture of visual short-term memory (VSTM), the mechanism by which currently relevant visual information is maintained. According to discretecapacity models, VSTM is constrained by a limited number of discrete representations held simultaneously. In contrast, shared-resource models regard VSTM as limited in resources, which can be distributed flexibly between varying numbers of representations; and a new interference model posits that capacity is limited by interference among items. In this article, we begin by reviewing benchmark findings regarding the debate over VSTM limitations, focusing on whether VSTM storage is all-or-none and on whether object complexity affects capacity. After that, we put forward a hybrid framework of VSTM architecture, arguing that this system is composed of a two-level hierarchy of memory stores, each containing a different set of representations: (1) perceptual memory, a resourcelike level containing analog automatically formed representations of visual stimuli in varying degrees of activation, and (2) visual working memory, in which a subset of three to four items from perceptual memory are bound to conceptual representations and to their locations, thus conveying discrete (digital/symbolic) information which appears quantized. While perceptual memory has a large capacity and is relatively nonselective, visual working memory is restricted in the number of items that can be maintained simultaneously, and its content is regulated by a gating mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • Conceptual representations
  • Discrete capacity
  • Embedded components
  • Shared-resource models
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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