A New Conceptualization of Human Visual Sensory-Memory
Memory is an essential component of cognition and disorders of memory have significant individual and societal costs. The Atkinson-Shiffrin "modal model" forms the foundation of our understanding of human memory. It consists of three stores: Sensory Memory (SM), whose visual component is called iconic memory, Short-Term Memory (STM; also called working memory, WM), and Long-Term Memory (LTM). Since its inception, shortcomings of all three components of the modal model have been identified. While the theories of STM and LTM underwent significant modifications to address these shortcomings, models of the iconic memory remained largely unchanged: A high capacity but rapidly decaying store whose contents are encoded in retinotopic coordinates, i.e., according to how the stimulus is projected on the retina. The fundamental shortcoming of iconic memory models is that, because contents are encoded in retinotopic coordinates, the iconic memory cannot hold any useful information under normal viewing conditions when objects or the subject are in motion. Hence, half-century after its formulation, it remains an unresolved problem whether and how the first stage of the modal model serves any useful function and how subsequent stages of the modal model receive inputs from the environment. Here, we propose a new conceptualization of human visual sensory memory by introducing an additional component whose reference-frame consists of motion-grouping based coordinates rather than retinotopic coordinates. We review data supporting this new model and discuss how it offers solutions to the paradoxes of the traditional model of sensory memory.