Visual cognition

Formation of visual long-term memory

The main component of visual cognition are visual attention, visual working memory, and visual long-term memory. We study the relationship between all three components. This can be done by a special type of a paradigm that I invented.

First, look briefly at the pattern on the left side and then see whether you can identify the missing element in the pattern on the right side, without looking back to the left side. You might be surprised that, with short presentation (e.g., 1 second), this task is difficult because a normal person can memorize the identity of not more than four elements. The information about the locations of red and green elements is stored in the so-called visual working memory, which has very small storage capacity. In working memory the information stays only for short period of time and hence, it is also called short-term memory. In contrast, long-term memory has very large capacity and can hold information for very long period of time. For example, your knowledge of the shape of the latter ‘A’ is stored in long-term memory.

We investigated the mechanisms underlying the formation of visual long-term memory. We found that visual long-term memory is formed within visual working memory: The amount of information that can be stored in visual working memory determines our ability to store information into long-term memory (Nikolić and Singer, 2007). In addition, we investigated the relationship between visual working memory and the mechanisms of visual attention. In an fMRI study we found a very close overlap between the brain areas activated by an attention task and the brain areas activated by a working-memory task (Mayer et al., 2007). This suggests that working memory and attention largely rely on the same neurophysiological mechanisms.


Mayer, J., R. Bittner, D. Linden and D. Nikolić (2007)
Attentional demand influences strategies for encoding into visual working memory. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 3(4), 429-448

Nikolić, D. and W. Singer (2007)
Creation of visual long-term memory.
Perception & Psychophysics
, 69: 904-912

Mayer J.S., R.A. Bittner, D. Nikolić, C. Bledowski, R. Goebel and D.E.J. Linden (2007)
Common neural substrates for visual working memory and attention.
36(2): 441-53