Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Visual Working Memory Reveal Metacognitive Aspects of Mental Imagery

Kathryn E. Bates, Marie L. Smith, Emily K. Farran, Maro G. Machizawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mental imagery (MI) is the ability to generate visual phenomena in the absence of sensory input. MI is often likened to visual working memory (VWM): the ability to maintain and manipulate visual representations. How MI is recruited during VWM is yet to be established. In a modified orientation change-discrimination task, we examined how behavioral (proportion correct) and neural (contralateral delay activity [CDA]) correlates of precision and capacity map onto subjective ratings of vividness and number of items in MI within a VWM task. During the maintenance period, 17 participants estimated the vividness of their MI or the number of items held in MI while they were instructed to focus on either precision or capacity of their representation and to retain stimuli at varying set sizes (1, 2, and 4). Vividness and number ratings varied over set sizes; however, subjective ratings and behavioral performance correlated only for vividness rating at set size 1. Although CDA responded to set size as was expected, CDA did not reflect subjective reports on high and low vividness and on nondivergent (reported the probed number of items in mind) or divergent (reported number of items diverged from probed) rating trials. Participants were more accurate in low set sizes compared with higher set sizes and in coarse (45°) orientation changes compared with fine (15°) orientation changes. We failed to find evidence for a relationship between the subjective sensory experience of precision and capacity of MI and the precision and capacity of VWM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-289
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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