Sensorimotor Working Memory Capacity Limits

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Bramwell, Ashley
Memory , Object Manipulation , Weight Prediction , Sensorimotor Memory , Motor Learning
Two novel studies examining the capacity and characteristics of working memory for object weights, experienced through lifting, were completed. Both studies employed visually identical objects of varying weight and focused on memories linking object locations and weights. Whereas numerous studies have examined the capacity of visual working memory, the capacity of sensorimotor memory involved in motor control and object manipulation has not yet been explored. In addition to assessing working memory for object weights using an explicit perceptual test, we also assessed memory for weight using an implicit measure based on motor performance. The vertical lifting or LF and the horizontal GF applied during lifts, measured from force sensors embedded in the object handles, were used to assess participants’ ability to predict object weights. In Experiment 1, participants were presented with sets of 3, 4, 5, 7 or 9 objects. They lifted each object in the set and then repeated this procedure 10 times with the objects lifted either in a fixed or random order. Sensorimotor memory was examined by assessing, as a function of object set size, how lifting forces changed across successive lifts of a given object. The results indicated that force scaling for weight improved across the repetitions of lifts, and was better for smaller set sizes when compared to the larger set sizes, with the latter effect being clearest when objects were lifting in a random order. However, in general the observed force scaling was poorly scaled. In Experiment 2, working memory was examined in two ways: by determining participants’ ability to detect a change in the weight of one of 3 to 6 objects lifted twice, and by simultaneously measuring the fingertip forces applied when lifting the objects. The results showed that, even when presented with 6 objects, participants were extremely accurate in explicitly detecting which object changed weight. In addition, force scaling for object weight, which was generally quite weak, was similar across set sizes. Thus, a capacity limit less than 6 was not found for either the explicit or implicit measures collected.
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