Competition between simultaneously presented visual stimuli lengthens reaction time and reduces both the BOLD response and neural firing. In contrast, conditions of sequential presentation have been assumed to be free from competition. Here we manipulated the spatial proximity of stimuli (Near versus Far conditions) to examine the effects of simultaneous and sequential competition on different measures of working memory (WM) for colour. With simultaneous presentation, the measure of WM precision was significantly lower for Near items, and participants reported the colour of the wrong item more often. These effects were preserved when the second stimulus immediately followed the first, disappeared when they were separated by 500 ms, and were partly recovered (evident for our measure of mis-binding but not WM precision) when the task was altered to encourage participants to maintain the sequentially presented items together in WM. Our results show, for the first time, that competition affects the measure of WM precision, and challenge the assumption that sequential presentation removes competition.
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