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Attention can be allocated in working memory (WM) to select and privilege relevant content. It is unclear whether attention selects individual features or whole objects in WM. Here, we used behavioral measures, eye-tracking and EEG to test the hypothesis that attention spreads between an object's features in WM. Twenty-six participants completed a WM task that asked them to recall the angle of one of two oriented, colored bars after a delay while EEG and eye-tracking data were collected. During the delay, an orthogonal "incidental task" cued the color of one item for a match/mismatch judgment. On congruent trials (50%), the cued item was probed for subsequent orientation recall; on incongruent trials (50%), the other memory item was probed. As predicted, selecting the color of an object in WM brought other features of the cued object into an attended state as revealed by EEG decoding, oscillatory α-power, gaze bias, and improved orientation recall performance. Together, the results show that attentional selection spreads between an object's features in WM, consistent with object-based attentional selection. Analyses of neural processing at recall revealed that the selected object was automatically compared with the probe, whether it was the target for recall or not. This provides a potential mechanism for the observed benefits of nonpredictive cueing in WM, where a selected item is prioritized for subsequent decision-making.

Original publication




Journal article


J Cogn Neurosci

Publication Date



1 - 21