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Nurit Gronau, Meytal Shachar, Yifat Rosenberg; Contextual associations facilitate long-term memory of visual details in barely seen pictures. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1127. doi: 10.1167/11.11.1127.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Objects typically appear within cluttered scenes, where they compete for limited processing resources. Visual contextual regularities may streamline object recognition, by reducing input complexity and by increasing scene coherence. What is the nature of memory-encoding of object-to-object contextual associations during a brief visual glance? Ample research has suggested that under very rapid viewing conditions only the ‘gist’ of a scene is grasped, while little visual detail is accessed and retained in long-term memory. In the present research we investigated whether contextual associations may enhance memory of visual details, even when objects are merely glimpsed. Participants viewed pairs of contextually-related and unrelated objects (e.g., a kettle and a mug; a shovel and a vase, respectively), presented for an extremely short exposure duration (24 ms, masked). Subsequently, participants performed a memory-recognition test, in which one of two objects within a pair was replaced by a novel object from the same basic category. Participants differentiated old objects from novel object exemplars, while these were presented with their original counterpart pair object. Results demonstrated higher levels of correct recognition for contextually-related than for unrelated object pairs (recognition rates in the latter did not differ from chance level). Furthermore, when object stimuli in the recognition test appeared alone, i.e., without a corresponding pair object serving as a memory-retrieval cue, results remained virtually identical. Namely, memory for specific visual details remained higher for objects initially appearing within contextually-related, than unrelated, object pairs. These results strongly suggest that while contextual information may provide a coarse ‘schema’ that enables memory of meaningful visual input (i.e., the ‘gist’of a scene), it also enhances the representation of specific visual details in the scene, even within a mere glimpse.
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