Encoding strategies in self-initiated visual working memory

Hagit Magen*, Anat Berger-Mandelbaum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


During a typical day, visual working memory (VWM) is recruited to temporarily maintain visual information. Although individuals often memorize external visual information provided to them, on many other occasions they memorize information they have constructed themselves. The latter aspect of memory, which we term self-initiated WM, is prevalent in everyday behavior but has largely been overlooked in the research literature. In the present study we employed a modified change detection task in which participants constructed the displays they memorized, by selecting three or four abstract shapes or real-world objects and placing them at three or four locations in a circular display of eight locations. Half of the trials included identical targets that participants could select. The results demonstrated consistent strategies across participants. To enhance memory performance, participants reported selecting abstract shapes they could verbalize, but they preferred real-world objects with distinct visual features. Furthermore, participants constructed structured memory displays, most frequently based on the Gestalt organization cue of symmetry, and to a lesser extent on cues of proximity and similarity. When identical items were selected, participants mostly placed them in close proximity, demonstrating the construction of configurations based on the interaction between several Gestalt cues. The present results are consistent with recent findings in VWM, showing that memory for visual displays based on Gestalt organization cues can benefit VWM, suggesting that individuals have access to metacognitive knowledge on the benefit of structure in VWM. More generally, this study demonstrates how individuals interact with the world by actively structuring their surroundings to enhance performance.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1093-1108
Number of pages16
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Gestalt
  • Grouping
  • Metacognition
  • Self-initiation
  • Visual working memory


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