Memory better if timing is right

March, 2010

A new study suggests that our memory for visual scenes may not depend on how much attention we’ve paid to it or what a scene contains, but the context in which the scene is presented.

A new study suggests that our memory for visual scenes may not depend on how much attention we’ve paid to it or what a scene contains, but when the scene is presented. In the study, participants performed an attention-demanding letter-identification task while also viewing a rapid sequence of full-field photographs of urban and natural scenes. They were then tested on their memory of the scenes. It was found that, notwithstanding their attention had been focused on the target letter, only those scenes which were presented at the same time as a target letter (rather than a distractor letter) were reliably remembered. The results point to a brain mechanism that automatically encodes certain visual features into memory at behaviorally relevant points in time, regardless of the spatial focus of attention.

Reference: 

[321] Lin, J. Y., Pype A. D., Murray S. O., & Boynton G. M.
(2010).  Enhanced Memory for Scenes Presented at Behaviorally Relevant Points in Time.
PLoS Biol. 8(3), e1000337 - e1000337.

Full text available at doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000337