Visual working memory for connected 3D objects: effects of stimulus complexity, dimensionality and connectivity

Chuanxiuyue He*, Peri Gunalp, Hauke S. Meyerhoff, Zoe Rathbun, Mike Stieff, Steven L. Franconeri, Mary Hegarty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Visual working memory (VWM) is typically measured using arrays of two-dimensional isolated stimuli with simple visual identities (e.g., color or shape), and these studies typically find strong capacity limits. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experts are tasked with reasoning with representations of three-dimensional (3D) connected objects, raising questions about whether those stimuli would be subject to the same limits. Here, we use a color change detection task to examine working memory capacity for 3D objects made up of differently colored cubes. Experiment 1a shows that increasing the number of parts of an object leads to less sensitivity to color changes, while change-irrelevant structural dimensionality (the number of dimensions into which parts of the structure extend) does not. Experiment 1b shows that sensitivity to color changes decreases similarly with increased complexity for multipart 3D connected objects and disconnected 2D squares, while sensitivity is slightly higher with 3D objects. Experiments 2a and 2b find that when other stimulus characteristics, such as size and visual angle, are controlled, change-irrelevant dimensionality and connectivity have no effect on performance. These results suggest that detecting color changes on 3D connected objects and on displays of isolated 2D stimuli are subject to similar set size effects and are not affected by dimensionality and connectivity when these properties are change-irrelevant, ruling out one possible explanation for scientists’ advantages in storing and manipulating representations of complex 3D objects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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