What happens to the representation of a moving stimulus when it is no longer present and its motion direction has to be maintained in working memory (WM)? Is the initial, sensorial representation maintained during the delay period or is there another representation, at a higher level of abstraction? It is also feasible that multiple representations may co-exist in WM, manifesting different facets of sensory and more abstract features. To that end, we investigated the mnemonic representation of motion direction in a series of three psychophysical experiments, using a delayed motion-discrimination task (relative clockwise∖counter-clockwise judgment). First, we show that a change in the dots' contrast polarity does not hamper performance. Next, we demonstrate that performance is unaffected by relocation of the Test stimulus in either retinotopic or spatiotopic coordinate frames. Finally, we show that an arrow-shaped cue presented during the delay interval between the Sample and Test stimulus, strongly biases performance toward the direction of the arrow, although the cue itself is non-informative (it has no predictive value of the correct answer). These results indicate that the representation of motion direction in WM could be independent of the physical features of the stimulus (polarity or position) and has non-sensorial abstract qualities. It is plausible that an abstract mnemonic trace might be activated alongside a more basic, analog representation of the stimulus. We speculate that the specific sensitivity of the mnemonic representation to the arrow-shaped symbol may stem from the long term learned association between direction and the hour in the clock.
Year of publication
Front Psychol; 7:165. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00165.