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Franziska Geringswald, Eleonora Porracin, Stefan Pollmann; Impairment of visual memory for objects in natural scenes by simulated central scotomata. Journal of Vision 2016;16(2):6. doi: 10.1167/16.2.6.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Because of the close link between foveal vision and the spatial deployment of attention, typically only objects that have been foveated during scene exploration may form detailed and persistent memory representations. In a recent study on patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration, however, we found surprisingly accurate visual long-term memory for objects in scenes. Normal exploration patterns that the patients had learned to rereference saccade targets to an extrafoveal retinal location. This rereferencing may allow use of an extrafoveal location as a focus of attention for efficient object encoding into long-term memory. Here, we tested this hypothesis in normal-sighted observers with gaze-contingent central scotoma simulations. As these observers were inexperienced in scene exploration with central vision loss and had not developed saccadic rereferencing, we expected deficits in long-term memory for objects. We used the same change detection task as in our patient study, probing sensitivity to object changes after a period of free scene exploration. Change detection performance was significantly reduced for two types of scotoma simulation diminishing foveal and parafoveal vision—a visible gray disc and a more subtle image warping—compared with unimpaired controls, confirming our hypothesis. The impact of a smaller scotoma covering specifically foveal vision was less distinct, leading to a marginally significant decrease of long-term memory performance compared with controls. We conclude that attentive encoding of objects is deficient when central vision is lost as long as successful saccadic rereferencing has not yet developed.
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