Serial position effects are well-documented in working memory literature. Studies of spatial short-term memory that rely on binary response; full report tasks tend to report stronger primacy than recency effects. In contrast, studies that utilize a continuous response, partial report task report stronger recency than primacy effects (Gorgoraptis, Catalao, Bays, & Husain, 2011; Zokaei, Gorgoraptis, Bahrami, Bays, & Husain, 2011). The current study explored the idea that probing spatial working memory using full and partial continuous response tasks would produce different distributions of visuospatial working memory resources across spatial sequences and, therefore, explain the conflicting results in the literature. Experiment 1 demonstrated that primacy effects were observed when memory was probed with a full report task. Experiment 2 confirmed this finding while controlling eye movements. Critically, Experiment 3 demonstrated that switching from a full to a partial report task abolished the primacy effect and produced a recency effect, consistent with the idea that the distribution of resources in visuospatial working memory depends on the type of recall required. It is argued that the primacy effect in the whole report task arose from the accumulation of noise caused by the execution of multiple spatially directed actions during recall, whereas the recency effect in the partial report task reflects the redistribution of preallocated resources when an anticipated item is not presented. These data show that it is possible to reconcile apparently contradictory findings within the resource theory of spatial working memory and the importance of considering how memory is probed when interpreting behavioral data through the lens of resource theories of spatial working memory.
McAteer, S. M., Ablott, E., McGregor, A., & Smith, D. T. (2023). Dynamic resource allocation in spatial working memory during full and partial report tasks. Journal of Vision, 23(2), Article 10. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.23.2.10