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PLoS Biol. 2010 Mar 16;8(3):e1000337. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000337.

Enhanced memory for scenes presented at behaviorally relevant points in time.

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Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States of America.


The ability to remember a briefly presented scene depends on a number of factors, such as its saliency, novelty, degree of threat, or behavioral relevance to a task. Here, however, we show that the encoding of a scene into memory may depend not only on what the scene contains but also when it occurs. Participants performed an attentionally demanding target detection task at fixation while also viewing a rapid sequence of full-field photographs of urban and natural scenes. Participants were then tested on whether they recognized a specific scene from the previous sequence. We found that scenes were recognized reliably only when presented concurrently with a target at fixation. This is evidence of a mechanism where traces of a visual scene are automatically encoded into memory at behaviorally relevant points in time regardless of the spatial focus of attention.

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