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Jose Rivera-Aparicio, Chaz Firestone; High-def memories of low-def scenes: A new phenomenon of “vividness extension”. Journal of Vision 2019;19(10):129a. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/19.10.129a.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Memories fade over time: A crisp hike on a wooded trail becomes harder to vividly recall as it moves further into the past. As the quality of a memory wanes, what happens to that memory’s content? For example, as one’s memory of a hike fades and loses clarity, might one also recall the day itself as literally being dimmer or more faded? Or might the opposite occur: Might we recall the experience as having been clearer and more detailed than it really was, even as our ability to recall those details is diminished? Here, four experiments demonstrate a surprising bias to remember visual scenes as having been more vivid and higher quality than they really were. Subjects saw images of natural scenes that had been blurred to varying degrees. A brief delay followed each scene, after which a new instance of the same scene appeared; subjects adjusted the blur of the new image to match the blur of the scene they had just viewed. Surprisingly, a powerful bias emerged wherein subjects misremembered scenes as being sharper and more vivid (i.e., less blurry) than they had truly appeared moments earlier. Follow-up experiments extended this phenomenon to saturation (with a bias to remember scenes as more colorful) and pixelation (with a bias to remember scenes as appearing at a higher resolution), while ruling out various response biases (e.g., a preference to look at sharper scenes, or to give extreme responses). The strength and pervasiveness of this bias suggests that, just as the mind fills in the details surrounding scenes in phenomena such as boundary extension, a similar process occurs within a scene itself: A phenomenon of “vividness extension”, whereby scenes are remembered as being more vivid than they really were.
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