Functional biases in attentional templates from associative memory

Sage E.P. Boettcher, Freek van Ede, Anna C. Nobre

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In everyday life, attentional templates-which facilitate the perception of task-relevant sensory inputs-are often based on associations in long-term memory. We ask whether templates retrieved from memory are necessarily faithful reproductions of the encoded information or if associative-memory templates can be functionally adapted after retrieval in service of current task demands. Participants learned associations between four shapes and four colored gratings, each with a characteristic combination of color (green or pink) and orientation (left or right tilt). On each trial, observers saw one shape followed by a grating and indicated whether the pair matched the learned shape-grating association. Across experimental blocks, we manipulated the types of nonmatch (lure) gratings most often presented. In some blocks the lures were most likely to differ in color but not tilt, whereas in other blocks this was reversed. If participants functionally adapt the retrieved template such that the distinguishing information between lures and targets is prioritized, then they should overemphasize the most commonly diagnostic feature dimension within the template. We found evidence for this in the behavioral responses to the lures: participants were more accurate and faster when responding to common versus rare lures, as predicted by the functional-but not the strictly veridical-template hypothesis. This shows that templates retrieved from memory can be functionally biased to optimize task performance in a flexible, context-dependent, manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)10
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2020


Supported by the Clarendon Fund and the Mary Somerville Graduate School Scholarship to S.E.P.B., a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship from the European Commission (ACCESS2WM) and an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council (MEMTICIPATION, 850636) to F.v.E. a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award (104571/Z/14/Z) and a James S. McDonnell Foundation Understanding Human Cognition Collaborative Award (220020448) to A.C.N., James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award (220020405), and by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre. The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is supported by core funding from the Wellcome Trust (203139/Z/16/Z).

FundersFunder number
James S. McDonnell Foundation220020405, 220020448
Wellcome Trust104571/Z/14/Z
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme850636
European CommissionACCESS2WM
European Research Council
NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre203139/Z/16/Z
Clarendon Fund


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