How does the eye-movement system mediate the formation, retention and recall of visuospatial working memories?

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Psychology


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Description Many everyday tasks, such as remembering where you parked, require the capacity to store and manipulate information about the visual and spatial properties of the world. The ability to represent, remember, and manipulate spatial information is known as visuospatial working memory (VSWM). Despite substantial interest in VSWM there is no clear consensus among scientists about how we create and maintain these memories. More specifically, there is little agreement about:

a) how spatial working memories are created

b) how we keep these memories active

c) how we recall spatial information that has been stored in long-term memory.

One influential idea is that VSWM depends on activity in the eye-movement system. However, this has proved difficult to test because experimental paradigms that disrupt eye movements also interfere with other cognitive systems, such as spatial attention. In this project we studied VSWM using a novel paradigm that disrupts eye-movements but not spatial attention. We found that that preventing eye-movements made it harder to remember a sequence of locations, but had no effect on remembering patterns, sequences of numbers, the relative size of objects or the orientation of arrows. In subsequent experiments we showed that the problem occurred because people failed to create and store the memories. We concluded that the ability to plan eye-movements is essential for the formation and retention of spatial memories, but less important for recalling spatial memories
Exploitation Route Our results show that eye-movements are essential for optimal spatial memory. Recalling information from a map is a good example of everyday use of spatial memory. Until recently, we explored static maps with eye-movements. in the last decade, this has changed because many people now use applications such as googlemaps on mobile devices. When exploring these maps the map is moved by scrolling across the display, while the eyes remain relatively still. Given the importance of eye-movements for memory, we believe that viewing maps on mobile devices may make it harder to encode and/or recall accurate spatial information from the map. We plan to pursue this idea with follow-up grant applications and explore collaborations with groups such as the Royal Geographical Society and the Institute for Navigation. We have already secured a small grant to fund a Durham University undergraduate to collect some pilot data
Sectors Other

Description Research Project Grant
Amount £148,494 (GBP)
Funding ID RPGF1906\153 
Organisation The Dunhill Medical Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 05/2023
Description Undergradaute Research Bursary
Amount £1,800 (GBP)
Organisation Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 09/2014
Description Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Project 
Organisation South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Department Department of Cellular Pathology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution I applied some of the ideas developed during this award to begin developing a new test for a disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. This collaboration was also strongly influenced by my previous ESRC grant
Collaborator Contribution Dr Neil Archibald has helped recruit patients with PSP and acts as the local NHS investigator
Impact We have published a paper and a book chapter outlining some preliminary results
Start Year 2017