Orienting attention to objects in visual short-term memory

Roberto Dell'Acqua, Paola Sessa, Paolo Toffanin, Roy Luria, Pierre Jolicœur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We measured electroencephalographic activity during visual search of a target object among objects available to perception or among objects held in visual short-term memory (VSTM). For perceptual search, a single shape was shown first (pre-cue) followed by a search-array, and the task was to decide whether the pre-cue was or was not in the search-array. For search of VSTM, a search-array was shown first followed by a single shape (post-cue), and the task was to decide whether the post-cue was or was not in the previously displayed search-array. We focused on early lateralized electrical brain activity over posterior and temporal areas time-locked to search-arrays in pre-cue trials and to post-cues in post-cue trials. In Experiment 1, search-arrays were composed of two lateralized shapes, displayed in the upper/lower two quadrants of the monitor. In Experiment 2, search-arrays were composed of four shapes, displayed at the corners of an imaginary square centered on fixation. In pre-cue trials, we observed an N2pc of about equal amplitude and latency for search-arrays composed of two or four shapes. In post-cue trials, we observed N2pc-like activity with search-arrays composed of two shapes, that was however substantially attenuated with search-arrays composed of four shapes. For many aspects, attending to a perceptual object was functionally and neurally analogous to attending to an object held in VSTM, suggesting that spatial selective attention biases search of objects during both ongoing perception and retention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-428
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • N2pc
  • Perception
  • Visual attention
  • Visual short-term memory


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