Research on temporal-order judgments, reference frames, discrimination tasks, and links to oculomotor control suggest important differences between inhibition of return (IOR) and attentional costs and benefits. Yet, it is generally assumed that IOR is an attentional effect even though there is little supporting evidence. The authors evaluated this assumption by examining how several factors that are known to influence attentional costs and benefits affect the magnitude of IOR: target modality, target intensity, and response mode. Results similar to those previously reported for attention were observed: IOR was greater for visual than for auditory targets, showed an inverse relationship with target intensity, and was equivalent for manual and saccadic responses. Important parallels between IOR and attentional costs and benefits are indicated, suggesting that, like attention, IOR may in part affect sensory-perceptual processes.
Working memory (WM) representations serve as templates that guide behavior, but the neural basis of these templates remains elusive. We tested the hypothesis that WM templates are maintained by biasing activity in sensoriperceptual neurons that code for features of items being held in memory. Neural activity was recorded using event-related potentials (ERPs) as participants viewed a series of faces and responded when a face matched a target face held in WM. Our prediction was that if activity in neurons coding for the features of the target is preferentially weighted during maintenance of the target, then ERP activity evoked by a nontarget probe face should be commensurate with the visual similarity between target and probe. Visual similarity was operationalized as the degree of overlap in visual features between target and probe. A face-sensitive ERP response was modulated by target-probe similarity. Amplitude was largest for probes that were similar to the target, and decreased monotonically as a function of decreasing target-probe similarity. These results indicate that neural activity is weighted in favor of visual features that comprise an actively held memory representation. As such, our findings support the notion that WM templates rely on neural populations involved in forming percepts of memory items.