Sleep deprivation accelerates delay-related loss of visual short-term memories without affecting precision


Visual short-term memory (VSTM) is a limited information store that supports many higher-order cognitive processes. Here we examined how two challenges to VSTM, sleep deprivation (SD) and maintenance duration, interact to affect the number and precision of stored items. Participants were studied twice, once after a normal night of sleep and once following a night of total SD. For each trial, participants remembered the location and color of three squares over a variable delay (1 or 10 seconds), reporting the color of the cued item using a color wheel. The probability of reporting the target item, the precision of report, and the probability of reporting a distractor item were determined using mixture modeling. SD reduced the number of integrated representations that could be reported, an effect compounded by delay. In contrast, SD had no effect on VSTM precision. These results suggest all-or-none memory failures, not gradual degradation, during SD.

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