The effects of environmental support and secondary tasks on visuospatial working memory

Lindsey Lilienthal, Sandra Hale, Joel Myerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


In the present experiments, we examined the effects of environmental support on participants’ ability to rehearse locations and the role of such support in the effects of secondary tasks on memory span. In Experiment 1, the duration of interitem intervals and the presence of environmental support for visuospatial rehearsal (i.e., the array of possible memory locations) during the interitem intervals were both manipulated across four tasks. When support was provided, memory spans increased as the interitem interval durations increased, consistent with the hypothesis that environmental support facilitates rehearsal. In contrast, when environmental support was not provided, spans decreased as the duration of the interitem intervals increased, consistent with the hypothesis that visuospatial memory representations decay when rehearsal is impeded. In Experiment 2, the ratio of interitem interval duration to intertrial interval duration was kept the same on all four tasks, in order to hold temporal distinctiveness constant, yet forgetting was still observed in the absence of environmental support, consistent with the decay hypothesis. In Experiment 3, the effects of impeding rehearsal were compared to the effects of verbal and visuospatial secondary processing tasks. Forgetting of locations was greater when presentation of to-be-remembered locations alternated with the performance of a secondary task than when rehearsal was impeded by the absence of environmental support. The greatest forgetting occurred when a secondary task required the processing visuospatial information, suggesting that in addition to decay, both domain-specific and domain-general effects contribute to forgetting on visuospatial working memory tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1118-1129
Number of pages12
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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