The processing of spatial information in short-term memory: Insights from eye tracking the path length effect
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Serial memory for spatial locations increases as the distance between successive stimuli locations decreases. This effect, known as the path length effect [Parmentier, F. B. R., Elford, G., & Maybery, M. T. (2005). Transitional information in spatial serial memory: Path characteristics affect recall performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 31, 412-427], was investigated in a systematic manner using eye tracking and interference procedures to explore the mechanisms responsible for the processing of spatial information. In Experiment 1, eye movements were monitored during a spatial serial recall task--in which the participants have to remember the location of spatially and temporally separated dots on the screen. In the experimental conditions, eye movements were suppressed by requiring participants to incessantly move their eyes between irrelevant locations. Ocular suppression abolished the path length effect whether eye movements were prevented during item presentation or during a 7s retention interval. In Experiment 2, articulatory suppression was combined with a spatial serial recall task. Although articulatory suppression impaired performance, it did not alter the path length effect. Our results suggest that rehearsal plays a key role in serial memory for spatial information, though the effect of path length seems to involve other processes located at encoding, such as the time spent fixating each location and perceptual organization.
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