Wyble Lab

Exploring the temporal interaction of attention and memory

As we view the world through our senses, most information is discarded, but some is kept, packaged into mental representations that can be stored in memory.  This process is analogous to a film editor who transforms raw camera footage into a compact series of shots and scenes that contain only the most important information.

Our goal is to understand the neural mechanisms that edit our sense-data into remembered percepts.  The mechanisms include attentional filters to shape and restrict the incoming information, and memory storage processes which remember information at varying levels of precision according to task relevance and memory load.   We are especially interested in how these processes interact in both directions (i.e. how attention affects encoding and how encoding affects attention).

These mechanisms underly a broad variety of phenomena in visual cognition such as attentional cueing, capture, the attentional blink, episodic or event-based memory, visual working memory and conscious awareness. We incorporate data from all of these literatures when building neural simulations of attention and memory processes.  We also use neural data from EEG recordings as an additional source of data in our modeling efforts.  These models then inspire new questions that we test experimentally, producing a tight feedback loop between theory and data.

Our work in the Psychology department of Penn State University (University Park campus) is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Israeli Binational Science Foundation, the Applied Research Labs at Penn State and the Office of Naval Research.  You can read more about specific projects below.   

Related Publications

  • Wyble, B., & Swan, G. (2015). Mapping the spatiotemporal dynamics of interference between two visual targets. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 77(7), 2331-2343, doi 10.3758/s13414-015-0938-x, Data archived at https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/x346dj339

  • The Neurophysiological Mechanisms of Attention

    When the visual system attends to a region of the visual field, there is a burst of neural activity that corresponds to the location of selection. One track of research we have been engaged with is to explore the mechanisms underlying attentional selection with a combined EEG/modelling approach. Building mechanistic models of cognitive processes allows for more direct comparisons between the model and the brain.  We theorize that the visual system "locks on" to a target, establishing a brief feedback loop between layers within the visual processing hierarchy.  According to our data, the N2pc component reflects the initiation of that lock-on state (see Tan & Wyble below).  Our more recent efforts are exploring the link between the Pd component and distractor suppression.

    Below is an illustration of the model (not yet published) that simulates the mechanisms of attentional enhancement and suppression, which produce the N2pc and Pd components. Note that the ERP in the upper right is a subtraction of the net current on the right side of the attention map from the left side (similar to the contra-ipsi subtractions used in N2pc and Pd literature).

    Related Publications

  • Bay, M., & Wyble, B. (2014). The benefit of attention is not diminished when distributed over two simultaneous cues. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76 (5), 1287-1297

  • Tan, M., & Wyble, B. (2015). Understanding how visual attention locks on to a location: Toward a computational model of the N2pc component. Psychophysiology. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12324 Data and Methods available at: https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/x346dw47q

  • Attending without Remembering

    I used to assume that when a stimulus grabbed your attention it would also be stored in your memory. However, when we ran an experiment to test if this was true we found that under certain circumstances, experimental participants would not be able to recognize which color or letter they had just been shown a few seconds ago, even when they had attended to that stimulus. Through a brilliant series of experiments engineered by Hui Chen, who works in the lab as a postdoctoral fellow, we have learned that when it comes to storing information in memory, attention is only half of the story. If we teach participants that certain information is useless for a task, they will generally be unable to remember that information, even if they have attended to that information to complete a task. 

    Related Publications

  • Chen H. & Wyble, B. (2015) The location but not the features of visual cues are automatically encoded into working memory. Vision research, 107, 76-85. Data available at: https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/5712mc169

  • Chen, H., & Wyble, B. (2015). Amnesia for object attributes: Failure to report attended information that had just reached conscious awareness. Psychological Science. 26(2) 203–210 0956797614560648 Data available at: https://nyu.databrary.org/volume/79 download

  • Chen & Wyble (2016) Attribute amnesia reflects a lack of memory consolidation for attended information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 42(2), 225-234 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000133, Data archived at https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/x346dx47x

  • Chen, H., Swan, G., & Wyble, B. (2016). Prolonged focal attention without binding: Tracking a ball for half a minute without remembering its color. Cognition, 147, 144-148. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.11.014 Data Archived at: https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/d791sg31t

  • Swan, G., Collins, J., & Wyble, B. (2016). Memory for a single object has differently variable precisions for relevant and irrelevant features. Journal of vision, 16(3), 32-32, 10.1167/16.3.32, Data available at https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/qv33rw66f

  • Understanding the structure of Visual Working Memory

    We have the ability to create mental representations of visual stimuli for use in later tasks, such as visual search and change detection. By recording the precision of memory traces along a continuum, it is possible to estimate the quality of these representations. Garrett Swan and I have been developing a new model of working memory that provides a formal account of the neurophysiological mechanisms that might underlie the binding of features together into memory representations.  

    Related Publications

  • Swan, G., & Wyble, B. (2014). The binding pool: A model of shared neural resources for distinct items in visual working memory. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76(7) 2136-2157

  • Swan, G., Collins, J., & Wyble, B. (2016). Memory for a single object has differently variable precisions for relevant and irrelevant features. Journal of vision, 16(3), 32-32, 10.1167/16.3.32, Data available at https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/collections/qv33rw66f

  • The attentional blink provides temporal segmentation

    The eSTST Model ( Wyble, Potter, Bowman & Nieuwenstein 2011)The eSTST Model ( Wyble, Potter, Bowman & Nieuwenstein 2011)
    The eSTST Model ( Wyble, Potter, Bowman & Nieuwenstein 2011)

    When two masked targets are separated by a short temporal gap, the second one is difficult to see. This failure to perceive the second target is known as the attentional blink (AB); our visual system temporarily shuts off attention while the first target is being processed. This robust finding occurs with a variety stimulus types, including letters, words, and pictures, and can even be found in cross-modal paradigms.

    It is tempting to characterize the AB as a limited ability to process two stimuli in rapid succession but for the counterintuitive fact that it is easier to see both stimuli when presented in immediate succession (referred to as lag-1 sparing). 

    What our models suggest is that the attentional blink may result from a mechanism that segments visual input into discrete episodes prior to memory encoding. This theory predicts that the attentional blink is adaptive: it helps us to parse continuous visual input into meaningful units of information that represent distinct events.

    Related Publications

  • Wyble, B., Potter, M. C., Bowman, H., Nieuwenstein, M. (2011) Attentional episodes in visual perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General. 140(3):488-505.

  • Wyble B., Bowman H., & Nieuwenstein M. (2009) The Attentional Blink provides Episodic Distinctiveness: Sparing at a Cost Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 35(3):787-807

  • Bowman H., & Wyble B. (2007) The simultaneous type, serial token model of temporal attention and working memory. Psychological Review, 114(1):38-70.

  • Wyble, B., Bowman, H., & Nieuwenstein, M. (2015). On the interplay between working memory consolidation and attentional selection in controlling conscious access: parallel processing at a cost—a comment on ‘The interplay of attention and consciousness in visual search, attentional blink and working memory consolidation’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370(1661), 20140197.

  • The flexibility of contingent attention

    Given instructions to look for a particular type of stimulus (e.g. something red), one can establish an attentional set that allows us to selectively process stimuli containing that feature.  We have been exploring whether this attentional set can be configured for more complex stimulus types.  Our research has found evidence that orthographic categories (e.g. spot the letter among digits) and superordinate categories (e.g. spot the Carrying Item) can serve as attentional triggers at a time scale of about 100ms if subjects have an appropriate task set. This rapid deployment of attention to a task relevant stimulus would be critically important for allowing attentional selection of objects during unconstrained visual saccades.

    Related Publications

  • Potter M.C., Wyble B., Pandav, R., Olejarczyk, J. (2010) Picture detection in rapid serial visual presentation: Features or identity? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 36(6):1486-94

  • Martens S., Dun M., Wyble B., Potter M. C. (2010) A Quick Mind with Letters Can Be a Slow Mind with Natural Scenes: Individual Differences in Attentional Selection. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13562

  • Wyble, B. Folk, C., Potter, M. C. (2013) Contingent Capture by Conceptually Relevant Images. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 39(3):861-71

  • Martens S., Wyble B., (2010) The attentional blink: past, present, and future of a blind spot in perceptual awareness. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews May;34(6):947-57.