Cueing Visual Spatial Working Memory: Effects of Cue Modality, Cue Type, and Age
Curtis, Ashley Ferne
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In general, attentional control and spatial working memory (WM) decline with increasing age. It is well known that relative to non-cued targets, spatially informative visual (uni-modal) cues quicken response time in target detection attention tasks, and improve feature and spatial WM performance. Spatially informative auditory and vibrotactile (cross-modal) cues provide additional benefit in more difficult attention tasks, but their effects on spatial location WM are unknown. This dissertation presents two studies that investigated effects of uni-modal visual cues and cross-modal auditory and vibrotactile cues on visual spatial location WM in younger adults (YA) and older adults (OA), and under various conditions that modulated WM task demands. In study one, we found that both spatially informative uni-modal and cross-modal cues improved spatial location WM performance to a similar degree for YA and OA. This benefit was generally greater under higher WM load (i.e., six-item vs. four-item memory arrays) and longer maintenance delays, whereas centrally presented alerting cues generally impaired performance. Individuals with lower spatial spans also benefitted most from spatially informative cross-modal cues. Study two assessed the impact of maintenance interference on spatially informative cue effects. In contrast to study one, we found age-related cue effects, which were moderated by WM maintenance interference type. When interference was to be ignored, OA benefitted from visual, auditory, and vibrotactile cues for lower WM loads (i.e., four-item arrays), whereas YA only benefitted from vibrotactile cues at higher WM loads (i.e., six-item arrays). When interference was to be compared, OA showed increased benefit to WM performance from cross-modal auditory and vibrotactile cues, whereas YA benefitted from all cue modalities. Taken together, these findings suggest spatially informative cross-modal cues can improve spatial location WM in both YA and OA, particularly when demands on spatial attention and attentional control are high. Furthermore, OA show more consistent benefit from cross-modal cues in resource demanding conditions. These results provide insight into cognitive underpinnings of cross-modal cue effects, and age-related differences in use of environmental support. They also provide a rationale for real world applications using cross-modal cues, aimed at improving cognitive function in complex visual environments, particularly for OA.