December 2013
Volume 13, Issue 15
OSA Fall Vision Meeting Abstract  |   October 2013
Measuring the time course of the information available in brief visual presentations
Author Notes
  • Footnotes
     Moderator: John Mollon, University of Cambridge
Journal of Vision October 2013, Vol.13, T22. doi:
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      George Sperling; Measuring the time course of the information available in brief visual presentations. Journal of Vision 2013;13(15):T22.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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As a graduate student at Harvard University in the summer of 1957, George Miller arranged for me to borrow a tachistoscope from Jerry Brunner in order to carry out an experiment I had proposed in a student report in their jointly taught class. When a subject views a briefly flashed array of a dozen or so letters, s/he typically reports seeing more letters than s/he can remember. I used a method of partial report to demonstrate that the subject has a very short-term visual memory of the array and to precisely measure the decay of this visual sensory memory during the half-second following the exposure. Subsequently, UlricNeisser (Cognitive Psychology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967) renamed it “iconic memory” and made it famous. With S.S. Stevens' help, the summer experiments became my doctoral thesis in 1959, published as Sperling (1960). It eventually became a citation classic (Current Contents, 1979, 21, 18). As a visitor at Bell Laboratories in summer, 1958, the previous summer's experiments were repeated, and I used post-stimulus visual masking to measure the rate of information extraction from visual sensory memory, uncontaminated by persistence. The post-stimulus mask was a stimulus flash consisting of visual noise that overwrote the persistence (Sperling G. 1963. Human Factors, 5, 19-31 - one of the five most cited articles in the history of the journal). An interesting sidelight is that this research was carried out in the Psychology Department after I had been failed by Harvard's Social Relations Department and was not permitted to carry out the project I had originally planned.

Sperling G. The information available in brief visual presentations. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied. 1960; 74 (11, Whole No. 498): 1–29.


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