The attentional modulation of performance in a memory task, comparable to the one obtained in a perceptual task, is at the focus of contemporary research. We hypothesized that a biphasic effect (namely, facilitation followed by inhibition) can be obtained in visual working memory when attention is cued towards one item of the memorandum and participants must recognize a delayed probe as being identical to any item of the memorandum. In every trial, a delayed spiky/curvy probe appeared centrally, to be matched with the same-category shape maintained in visual working memory which could be either physically identical (positive trials) or only categorically similar (negative trials). To orient the participant’s attention towards a selected portion of a two-item memorandum, a (tzk/wow) sound was played simultaneously with two lateral visual shapes (one spiky and one curved). Our results indicate that an exogenous attentional shift during perception of the memorandum, induced by a congruent audio-visual pairing, first facilitates and then inhibits the recognition of a cued item (but not of a non-cued item) stored in visual working memory. A coherent pattern of individual differences emerged, indicating that the amount of early facilitation in congruent-sound trials was negatively correlated with recognition sensitivity in no-sound trials (suggesting that the inverse effectiveness rule may also apply to memory) and positively correlated with later inhibition, as well as with the self-reported susceptibility to memory failures.
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