Interactions Between Visual Working Memory, Attention, and Color Categories: A Pupillometry Study

Thomas Wilschut*, Sebastiaan Mathot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Recent studies have found that visual working memory (VWM) for color shows a categorical bias: observers typically remember colors as more prototypical to the category they belong to than they actually are. Here, we further examine color-category effects on VWM using pupillometry. Participants remembered a color for later reproduction on a color wheel. During the retention interval, a colored probe was presented, and we measured the pupil constriction in response to this probe, assuming that the strength of constriction reflects the visual saliency of the probe. We found that the pupil initially constricted most strongly for non-matching colors that were maximally different from the memorized color; this likely reflects a lack of visual adaptation for these colors, which renders them more salient than memory-matching colors (which were shown before). Strikingly, this effect reversed later in time, such that pupil constriction was more prolonged for memory-matching colors as compared to non-matching colors; this likely reflects that memory-matching colors capture attention more strongly, and perhaps for a longer time, than non-matching colors do. We found no effects of color categories on pupil constriction: after controlling for color distance, (non-matching) colors from the same category as the memory color did not result in a different pupil response as compared to colors from a different category; however, we did find that behavioral responses were biased by color categories. In summary, we found that pupil constriction to colored probes reflects both visual adaptation and VWM content, but, unlike behavioral measures, is not notably affected by color categories.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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